Fibromyalgia, otherwise known as fibromyalgia syndrome, is a chronic, long-term condition that causes widespread bodily pain, fatigue and psychological distress. Fibromyalgia is considered a rheumatic condition, insofar as it affects the connective and/or supportive structures of your body. However, unlike arthritis, which is caused by inflammation of a joint, or joints, fibromyalgia affects soft tissues and does not cause inflammation or damage to the affected areas. For example, fibromyalgia should not be confused with polymyalgia, or polymyalgia rheumatica, a type of arthritis characterised by severe inflammation, pain and stiffness in the muscles of you neck, shoulders and hips. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), approximately five million adults in the United States, between 80% and 90% of whom are women, suffer from fibromyalgia. In Britain, the National Health Service (NHS) estimates that up to 4.5% of the population, or 2.8 million people, are affected, to some degree, by fibromyalgia. However, in the absence of a specific test for the condition, which has symptoms in common with numerous other disorders, fibromyalgia remains difficult to diagnose.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The symptoms of fibromyalgia resemble, and are often confused with, those of arthritis. Aside from widespread pain in the muscles, including those in the face, and the connective tissues that cover them, fibromyalgia is characterised by extreme, delibilatating fatigue and irregular sleep patterns, which interfere with your normal day-to-day activities. Other physical symptoms of fibromyalgia include increased sensitivity to light, sound, touch and changes in temperature, headaches, including migraine headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome, which manifests itself as bloating, stomach pain and diarrhoea. Fibromyalgia sufferers also frequently report numbness and tingling in their hands and feet and a unpleasant crawling sensation in their legs, technically known as ‘restless leg syndrome’, at night. Mentally, fibromyalgia can cause confusion and difficulties with concentration and memory, colloquially known as ‘fibro fog’. All symptoms of fibromyalgia can range from mild to severe and can be permanent, semei-permanent or temporary.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
The causes of fibromyalgia are still not fully understood, but the condition is believed to be related to changes in brain chemistry and the transmission of pain signals to the central nervous system, which causes suffers to become oversensitised to painful stimuli. Fibromyalgia is not a hereditary genetic disorder, inasmuch as it is not passed directly from parents to children, but a history of fibromyalgia in your immediate family significantly increases your chances of developing the condition. Indeed, fibromyalgia may occur without any obvious cause, but may also be prompted by physical and/or emotional trauma, including, but not limited to:
- chronic autoimmune diseases, such as inflammatory arthritis and lupus
- injury or infection
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia. However, a combination of treatments, including medication, cognitive behaviour therapy and lifestyle changes, such as exercise, can be employed to effectively treat the symptoms. Over time, most sufferers of fibromyalgia learn to manage their condition.