What is Fibromyalgia?
Pain, Fatigue, Fibro Fog & More - All Part of Fibromyalgia Syndrome
Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic condition that causes intense pain in various places around the body, including muscles, connective tissues and joints, as well as a host of other symptoms. It affects more than 6 million people in the United States.
Doctors classify fibromyalgia as a syndrome, which means it has a group of signs, symptoms and characteristics that occur together.
To make a diagnosis, doctors usually rely on signs and symptoms alone. Complicating the matter, symptoms vary widely from person to person and often, as do their intensity.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
People with fibromyalgia frequently hurt all over and feel exhausted all the time. Those symptoms often force you to seriously limit your physical activity. It's also common to have problems concentrating and remembering things. A lot of people with fibromyalgia have symptoms so severe that they have to quit or modify their jobs.
Because fibromyalgia is frequently misunderstood, family, friends, co-workers and even medical providers may not believe the person is actually sick. A proper diagnosis often takes months at the very least, I found people on this board had it for years before they where diagnosed.
Keep in mind that the signs and symptoms vary widely from one person to another. Some people have only a few, while others have many. The intensity of symptoms is different in everyone as well, ranging from mildly annoying to highly debilitating.
Common symptoms of fibromyalgia:
Cognitive or memory impairment (“fibro fog”)
Frequently, people with undiagnosed fibromyalgia don't realize that a host of secondary symptoms are related to the pain, fatigue and other primary symptoms. Keeping a detailed list of symptoms can help your doctor make a diagnosis.
Additional fibromyalgia symptoms include:
Painful menstrual cramps
Nausea and dizziness
Muscle twitches and weakness
These lists include the most common symptoms. For a complete symptoms list, see the Monster List of Fibromyalgia Symptoms.
While a lot of fibromyalgia treatments are available, you'll likely need to experiment with different options before you find what works best for you.
Fibromyalgia treatments include:
Complementary/alternative treatments, including massage and physical therapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture
Vitamins and supplements
Moderate exercise, but only if done correctly
Lifestyle changes, including diet, stress management, and pacing
Every case of fibromyalgia is different, and no treatment works for everyone. You'll probably need to work closely with your doctor to custom tailor a treatment regimen that helps you become more functional. Many people benefit from a multidisciplinary approach, which involves several healthcare providers.
Prognosis for People With Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition. While some people do experience long remissions, no one who's had fibromyalgia can truly say they don't have it any more.
As for the progression of the illness, it's hard to say whether your symptoms will get better or worse with time. Because fibromyalgia isn't degenerative, its course isn't clearly established like it is for many diseases.
Some experts say about a third of us will get worse, a third will improve significantly, and the remaining third will stay about the same. Some studies have linked early diagnosis and treatment to better long-term outcomes, but other than this it's unclear what role treatment plays in the progression, or lack thereof, of fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia & Overlapping Conditions
As if all this weren't enough, several other conditions frequently go along with fibromyalgia. Researchers aren't sure whether one condition leads to another or whether they have related underlying causes. Becoming familiar with the symptoms of these disorders can help you determine whether you have more than one.
Overlapping conditions include:
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome
Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)
Multiple chemical sensitivity
Myofascial pain syndrome
Restless leg syndrome
Costochondritis (chest pain)
History of Fibromyalgia
Doctors coined the term fibromyalgia (fibro –- meaning fibrous tissue, my -– meaning muscle, and algia -– meaning pain) in 1976, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the American College of Rheumatology developed diagnostic criteria. While muscle pain is the primary symptom, research found that nothing is wrong with the muscles themselves. For a time, researchers thought it could be an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Now it’s widely believed in the medical community that a malfunction of the central nervous system (called central sensitization) causes fibromyalgia, leading to new research into treatments and new hope that fibromyalgia will be not only more treatable, but perhaps even curable.
To date, three drugs -- Lyrica (pregabalin), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Savella (milnacipran) are FDA approved for treating fibromyalgia, but other drug trials are in the works.