What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition associated with widespread chronic pain, fatigue, memory problems and mood changes. Fibromyalgia is not a single disease, but a constellation of symptoms that can be managed. It is not life threatening and does not lead to muscle or joint damage.
In the past, other terms were used to describe the condition, including muscular rheumatism and fibrositis. The condition may even have been misdiagnosed as degenerative joint disease.
Fibromyalgia affects mainly women, although men and adolescents can also develop the condition. It tends to develop during middle adulthood.
Researchers suspect that different factors, alone or in combination, may contribute to the development of the disease. An infectious illness, physical trauma, emotional trauma or hormonal changes may trigger the development of generalized pain, fatigue and sleep disturbances that characterizes the condition.
Fibromyalgia in itself doesn’t cause any lasting damage to the body’s tissues. However, it’s important to keep as active as you can in order to avoid weakening of the muscles (deconditioning) which could lead to secondary problems.
What are the symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
The symptoms of fibromyalgia can vary from mild to severe. The most common symptoms are:
- increased sensitivity to pain due to a decreased pain threshold
- increased responsiveness to sensory stimuli such as heat, cold, light, smell
- extreme fatigue (tiredness)
- problems with memory and concentration (fibro fog)
- problems with sleep.
Other symptoms may include:
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet.
- Pain in the face or jaw, including disorders of the jaw know as temporomandibular joint syndrome (also known as TMJ).
- Digestive problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and even irritable bowel syndrome (also known as IBS).
The following symptoms are also possible:
- problems with vision
- pelvic and urinary problems
- weight gain
- cold or flu-like symptoms
- skin problems
- chest symptoms
- depression and anxiety
- breathing problems
What causes Fibromyalgia?
Researchers are not sure exactly what causes fibromyalgia. Genetics may play a role.
Studies also show that the brains of people with fibromyalgia may not process pain in the same way as people who do not have fibromyalgia. Lower levels of certain brain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or norepinephrine, may cause you to be more sensitive to pain and have a more severe reaction to pain. Imaging studies of the brain show that people with fibromyalgia feel pain when people without fibromyalgia do not.
Triggers for fibromyalgia flares
At times the symptoms you experience as a result of your fibromyalgia (e.g. pain, fatigue) may become more intense. This is called a flare.
Flares can be triggered or made worse by several factors including:
- weather changes
- mental stress
- illness or injury
- hormonal changes
- changes in treatment.
Triggers vary from person to person. Understanding the things that cause your fibromyalgia to flare means that you can be prepared and take steps to lessen the effect they will have on you and your life.
There are several other conditions often associated with fibromyalgia.
Generally, these are rheumatic conditions (affecting the joints, muscles and bones), such as:
- osteoarthritis – when damage to the joints causes pain and stiffness
- lupus – when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues in various parts of the body
- rheumatoid arthritis – when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the joints, causing pain and swelling
- ankylosing spondylitis – pain and swelling in parts of the spine
- temporomandibular disorder (TMD) – a condition that can cause pain in the jaw, cheeks, ears and temples
Conditions like these are usually tested for when diagnosing fibromyalgia.
What are the risk factors for fibromyalgia?
Known risk factors include:
- Age. Fibromyalgia can affect people of all ages, including children. However, most people are diagnosed during middle age and you are more likely to have fibromyalgia as you get older.
- Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis. If you have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you are more likely to develop fibromyalgia.
Some other factors have been weakly associated with onset of fibromyalgia, but more research is needed to see if they are real. These possible risk factors include:
- Sex. Women are twice as likely to have fibromyalgia as men.
- Stressful or traumatic events, such as car accidents, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Repetitive injuries. Injury from repetitive stress on a joint, such as frequent knee bending.
- Illness (such as viral infections).
- Family history.
What are the complications of fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia can cause pain, disability, and lower quality of life. US adults with fibromyalgia may have complications such as:
- More hospitalizations. If you have fibromyalgia you are twice as likely to be hospitalized as someone without fibromyalgia.
- Lower quality of life. Women with fibromyalgia may experience a lower quality of life.
- Higher rates of major depression. Adults with fibromyalgia are more than 3 times more likely to have major depression than adults without fibromyalgia. Screening and treatment for depression is extremely important.
- Higher death rates from suicide and injuries. Death rates from suicide and injuries are higher among fibromyalgia patients, but overall mortality among adults with fibromyalgia is similar to the general population.
- Higher rates of other rheumatic conditions. Fibromyalgia often co-occurs with other types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and ankylosing spondylitis.
In summary, Fibromyalgia is a non degenerative disease. It is more common in women. It can’t be cured but properly managed. Since the cause isn’t well known, it is difficult to prevent it. If you have one or more of the symptoms, please visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis.