Fibromyalgia (previously called fibrositis) is a long-term (chronic) condition that can cause widespread muscle pain. Whilst the tissues do not appear to suffer from any damage, the pain and tiredness associated with it are very real.
Fibromyalgia is actually quite a common condition – research has shown that up to 1 person in every 50 may share your symptoms. However fibromyalgia is a non-progressive condition.
What are the symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
Pain in the muscles, tiredness and sleep disturbance are the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, but they vary from person to person and also over the course of the day.
The pain may feel particularly bad in just a few areas, or it can affect your whole body. People suffer with tenderness and sore points over the body are noticeable in specific areas, such as on the outer side of the elbows, top of the shoulders, upper part of the front of the chest, inner side of the knees, etc.
Fibromyalgia sufferers often say that the tiredness (fatigue) is the worst aspect of the condition, often feeling worse when they wake up, as if they have slept poorly, but may not improve as the day goes on. The tiredness may also fluctuate making it difficult for some to do a full day's work, household chores or even shopping and therefore having a major effect on quality of life.
Other fibromyalgia symptoms include
__Research has also shown that people with fibromyalgia are more sensitive to physical pressure – this means that what would be a relatively minor knock for many people could be extremely painful for someone with fibromyalgia. While this increased sensitivity is not fully understood, we think this could be related to chemical changes in the nervous system. It's also thought that sleep disturbance contributes to this increased sensitivity.
What causes fibromyalgia?
The cause is unknown. Research indicates there is disturbance of deep sleep in people with fibromyalgia and a special test looking at brain waves called an electroencephalogram (EEG) can detect these changes.
Hence people can develop fibromyalgia if their sleep is disturbed repeatedly. Therefore anything that causes problems with sleep may eventually lead to it, such as people with arthritis because the pain.
Research also shows that there is a direct relationship between the physical, mental and psychological aspects of the illness. This means that the pain you feel is often affected by the way you are feeling and vice versa. Feeling depressed or anxious can make the pain feel worse, which in turn adds to the stress and anxiety, and so on... Therefore emotional upsets, stress and depression may also bring about fibromyalgia as well as the effect of pain and distress leading to depression.
In some patients the onset of fibromyalgia can be traced to a recent trauma or accident.
Who is at risk?
As many as 3 per cent of the population have fibromyalgia, with 10 times more women affected than men. Fibromyalgia has some similarities with chronic fatigue or post viral fatigue syndrome or ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). However ME patients feel less pain but are more tired and lethargic.
How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?
Fibromyalgia is often difficult to diagnose as the symptoms vary from individual to individual. Many of the symptoms can have other causes and your doctor may suggest some tests, often to rule out other conditions. Unfortunately there's no single test, such as a blood test or X rays to help in the diagnosis.
The doctor may suspect the condition from the symptoms in the absence of any structural damage, inflammation or swelling of the joints. The presence specific tender points on the body along with a history of undue tiredness and sleep disturbance can help your GP to make the diagnosis. These areas can be tender even when pressed very gently.
Doctors usually ask for several blood tests or even X-rays to rule out other likely causes that can sometimes look like fibromyalgia, such as underactive thyroid.
How does it progress?
Occasionally, the condition settles down after months or even years, but it usually continues long term.However Fibromyalgia will not cause any permanent joint or bone damage. People with Fibromyalgia are at no greater risk of developing any form of arthritis later in life.
Also see Treatment for Fibromyalgia
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