Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterized by widespread pain throughout the body. Individuals with this condition often experience sleep disturbances and cognitive difficulties, which can take a toll on their mental and emotional well-being.
When left undiagnosed, fibromyalgia can lead to various health complications. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be affected by fibromyalgia, it is important to become familiar with the signs and symptoms associated with the condition.
How It Begins
Genetics can indeed play a significant role in the development of fibromyalgia, as the condition tends to run in families. Additionally, females are more commonly diagnosed with fibromyalgia compared to males.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia are often triggered by physical or psychological events such as surgery, infection, physical trauma, or mental distress. Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at a greater risk of developing this syndrome.
People who already have underlying conditions like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis have an increased likelihood of developing fibromyalgia. Similarly, individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome or irritable bowel syndrome are at higher risk, and these conditions can sometimes mask the early symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Pain and Stiffness
The primary features of fibromyalgia are widespread pain and stiffness throughout the body. The pain experienced can vary from a dull ache to intense and excruciating sensations. To meet the diagnostic criteria, this discomfort must be present consistently both above and below the waist. The pain is often described as muscular and can be particularly intensified around the face and jaw.
Researchers believe that individuals with fibromyalgia have heightened sensitivity to pain, as evidenced by altered signaling in the neural pathways involved in pain transmission, as observed in brain imaging studies. This distinct neural configuration may also contribute to the next set of symptoms we will explore.
Fatigue and “The Fibro Fog”
Many individuals who eventually receive a diagnosis of fibromyalgia often visit their doctor complaining of persistent fatigue and sleep disturbances. The combination of feeling excessively tired during the day while being unable to achieve restful sleep at night can significantly impact one’s quality of life.
Cognitive issues, commonly referred to as “fibro fog” by those with the condition, are also hallmark indicators of fibromyalgia. These issues can manifest as difficulties with concentration, thinking, and memory. Brain scans have revealed that this “fibro fog” is associated with deficits in executive functioning skills, which can affect decision-making and planning abilities. Forgetfulness, verbal slips, and confusion are frequently reported symptoms.
Migraines and Moods
Individuals living with fibromyalgia often experience symptoms of tension headaches and migraines. These headaches can closely resemble migraine disease to the extent that a 2018 study found that 36.2% of patients diagnosed with migraines also met the criteria for fibromyalgia.
Depression and anxiety are common symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. The chronic pain and fatigue experienced by individuals with fibromyalgia can limit their ability to engage in regular exercise and social activities, leading to feelings of isolation. People with fibromyalgia often report heightened levels of depression and anxiety during flare-ups, which we will discuss further.
A flare-up of fibromyalgia refers to a period of intensified and prolonged symptoms that can last for days or even weeks. Although the heightened effects are temporary, these episodes can significantly disrupt a person’s personal and professional life.
Flare-ups can be triggered by various factors, ranging from subtle influences like weather changes to more significant events such as experiencing grief or giving birth. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms experienced during these flare-ups are similar to the ones that initially triggered the syndrome. These symptoms may include increased stress levels, disrupted sleep patterns, illness, and hormonal changes.
Symptoms Are Treatable
While there is no definitive method of preventing fibromyalgia, there are several approaches to treating its symptoms.
Pain relievers and antidepressants are commonly used to alleviate the physical and mental toll of fibromyalgia. Certain medications originally intended for epilepsy have also shown efficacy in targeting specific types of pain associated with the disorder.
Therapists and counselors trained in dealing with fibromyalgia can provide valuable support. Physical therapists can teach exercises that empower individuals to better manage their symptoms, while occupational therapists can assist in modifying the physical demands of a patient’s workplace to accommodate their condition.
Talk To Your Doctor
If you have further questions or concerns about fibromyalgia, it is advisable to consult with your doctor. While fibromyalgia cannot be definitively diagnosed through a blood test, medical professionals can reach a diagnosis by excluding other conditions that may present similar symptoms.
In addition to seeking medical advice, there are numerous online forums and communities where individuals with fibromyalgia share insights and tips about living with the syndrome. Engaging with these communities can provide valuable support and information. However, it is important to rely on reputable sources and consult with healthcare professionals for personalized guidance and advice.