The Problem with Fibromyalgia
The list of conditions that have the same or similar characteristics as fibromyalgia is staggering, which is why getting a firm diagnosis can take years. In this section of our site, you will find articles on a vast number of conditions that have similar symptoms to those of fibromyalgia. By spending some time going through them, you will appreciate how challenging it is for a person with FMS (fibromyalgia syndrome) to receive an accurate diagnosis.
Everyone Has an Opinion
If you look into the medical literature, you will discover that fibromyalgia is defined as a type of rheumatic disorder with primary symptoms of persistent and widespread muscle pain along with extreme physical fatigue. It goes on to say that the disorder causes aching and stabbing muscle pain upon waking in the morning which gradually fades in intensity as the day progresses. Additionally, sleep and rest do not refresh and revitalize, instead, the individual is fatigued and exhausted virtually all the time. These symptoms may be constant or they may be intermittent, initially coming and going over the course of months.
Nothing to Go On
FMS is difficult to diagnose because symptoms can also be quite vague at times. Blood tests and x-rays usually come up without any visual abnormalities. For many years it was this phenomenon that often lead doctors to think those with FMS were somehow imagining their illness. Today, doctors use a variety of methods to distinguish FMS from other conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome or depression. One of the established baseline tests is the tender point test in which 11 of 18 specific points on the body exhibit a certain level of tenderness when touched or depressed. The prominent points are at the base of the skull and in the neck, shoulders, ribs, upper chest and collarbone, elbows, knees, lower back and the buttocks. Another type of confirming sign is a period of fatigue and muscle pain exceeding three months at a time that can't be linked to any other underlying condition.
Lyme disease is linked to ticks and other insects, lupus is an autoimmune disease, and rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease. These and many other associated conditions have disease parameters and medically researched data that point to a cause. The underlying factors that cause FMS remain a mystery. Once thought to be a psychological condition (all in your head), it has morphed into a condition with many probable causes including low neurotransmitters (serotonin) in the brain. The idea of a central nervous system malfunction actually ties a lot of the symptoms together. Low levels of the chemical serotonin, a compound used in the brain to transmit message through the central nervous system, can be the cause of muscle pain, interrupted sleep, and worsening symptoms associated with FMS. Chronic fatigue syndrome is often said to accompany fibromyalgia.
Another research link has been discovered in the high levels of substance P that is present in the bodies of those who have fibromyalgia. Substance P is believed to be involved in the transmission of pain signals from the body to the brain. In this theory, pain sensitivity is the cause of the FMS, thus substantiating the link of the presence of high amounts of this transmitter to the condition. Other probable causes include the flu, an impaired or weakened immune system, and pathological stress. Whiplash injuries have been implicated as a cause, especially since they tend to damage muscles and nerves in the back of the head, the neck, shoulders and ribs - all places that are common sources of tender points in FMS sufferers.
Treat the Symptoms, Hope for a Cause
At the end of the day, there are few definite, isolated symptoms that earmark fibromyalgia outside of the tender points and chronic pain and fatigue. However, research does continue and what people with the condition are finding is that it is chameleon-like in its presentation. One simply must treat the symptoms and find relief through the use of a variety of disciplines.
There may never be a root cause discovered - but that doesn't mean that research should not continue. The more we learn about this mysterious condition, the more we are able to help and understand those who suffer with it. Knowledge builds bridges that lead to understanding.
The list of associated conditions is a long one, but it will help you appreciate the challenge in determining a diagnosis for fibromyalgia.