There is no single set or list of symptoms that defines fibromyalgia for all patients. Fibromyalgia is termed a syndrome rather than a disease. A disease typically has specific known causes that can be tested for and a clearly defined limited set of symptoms related to it that lead to a diagnosis. When diagnosing a syndrome where no definitive medical tests are available (as is the case with Fibromyalgia), doctors need to take into account patterns of possible causes and symptoms. Specific patients typically only experience a limited number of these causes and symptoms making syndromes much more difficult to diagnose.
Widespread pain, persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, headaches and depression are among the most common Fibromyalgia symptoms. Fibromyalgia can also occur simultaneously with a number of other sensitivity syndromes, regional pain syndromes, and anxiety disorders. The majority of patients diagnosed with Fibromyalgia will also be diagnosed with a number of other common co-morbid conditions.
What Fibromyalgia Feels Like
Fibromyalgia pain is frequently described as a sense of deep severe aching similar to the kind of pain one might experience after an exhaustive exercise effort following a long period of inactivity. The pain can vary in intensity coming and going often with no apparent trigger or cause. Patients describe the pain in terms that vary including aching, burning, tingling, sharp or shooting, stabbing, throbbing, radiating or cramping. Fibromyalgia pain also tends to move around the body afflicting different areas, often with no apparent causal relationship.
Fibromyalgia is often misjudged to be an arthritis related condition. However, Fibromyalgia does not cause inflammation to muscles, joints, or other tissues. For this reason it is not actually a type of arthritis.
Fibromyalgia has been described by some as what it feels like to have the flu. Muscles of the body ache all over. Unlike the flu, the pain does not fade as the body overcomes the illness. The whole body may constantly ache with the pain varying in intensity across different body areas, waxing and waning.
Main Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Patients typically display a wide variety of fibromyalgia symptoms, such as chronic pain, fatigue, depression, and sleep disorders. All of these are common to many other syndromes and diseases making this condition extremely difficult to diagnose. What’s more, these symptoms can come and go.
Four primary categories of Fibromyalgia Symptoms exist. They are:
- Extreme pain in all four body quadrants—This pain will travel around the body over time. Some Fibromyalgia patients report the majority of their pain to be on one side of the body or the other. The pain is usually worse in the morning.
- Tender points on the body—Specific points on the body that causes pain when pressure is applied. Some of these tender points are located on the shoulders, neck, back, hips, legs, and arms. Fibromyalgia can be present with limited or even no tender points.
- Fatigue, depression, and/or anxiety– Depression is 3.4 times more likely to occur in someone with Fibromyalgia than those without the disorder. This happens due to the combination of chronic pain and fatigue that the patient experiences. These problems lead to restless sleep and sleeping disorders. Fibromyalgia patients often wake up tired, despite having slept for more than eight hours.
- Bowel and/or bladder pain—Frequent urination, especially at night, is a common symptom. Abdominal pain and diarrhea or constipation often occur.
Secondary Fibromyalgia Symptoms
People who have Fibromyalgia experience a large variety of secondary symptoms including:
- Stiff muscles in the morning
- Memory and concentration problems
- Sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises
- Painful menstrual periods
- Poor circulation causing tingling or numbness of the extremities
- Troubles breathing
- Jaw pain
Old and New Guidelines for Fibromyalgia Diagnosis
Previous guidelines for diagnosis established by the American College of Rheumatology included tender point testing. 18 tender points were specified. Pressure was applied to each of these points. If the patient reported feeling tenderness in at least 11 of these points, and the patient had chronic pain for more than 3 months in all 4 quadrants of the body – the recommended diagnosis was Fibromyalgia.
However, these pains can come and go from day to day. Doctors were also unsure of how much pressure to apply during the exam. Thus, an alternative set of diagnostic standards was developed.
The new diagnostic guidelines include:
- Widespread pain lasting at least three months
- Additional symptoms including fatigue, waking up tired, and memory problems
- No underlying conditions that might otherwise cause these symptoms
Very little is known about the causes of Fibromyalgia.
Physical trauma, such as a bad accident, may trigger a sudden onset of Fibromyalgia. Some believe that it is linked to repetitive injuries. Emotional trauma appears to cause the condition as well. Those with post traumatic stress disorder seem to have a higher probability of developing Fibromyalgia.
Ongoing research continues to shed further light on the condition. Many different theories have been advanced.
Many researchers are currently studying potential causes linked to the central nervous system and how it processes pain. Some of them believe that a specific gene may cause more acute perception of pain than most people would experience.
Similar research is being done into pain sensitivity chemicals that are produced during the deep sleep cycle. Most Fibromyalgia patients have highly elevated levels of this chemical (substance P) in their bodies. Cutting edge research into the causes of Fibromyalgia and internal body processes that function to increase the severity of Fibromyalgia symptoms is leading to the belief that Fibromyalgia is most likely a disorder in the central nervous system. Fibromyalgia patients suffer from their brains incorrectly interpreting signals from their central nervous system and thus causing them to experience often severe Fibromyalgia symptoms when no valid pain source may in fact be present.
People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases have a higher probability of developing Fibromyalgia. Although no one knows the causes of Fibromyalgia, new treatments to control the condition are being developed.