Pain, fatigue, fibroblast & More
By Adrienne Dellwo | Reviewed by a doctor certified by the board
The question “What is fibromyalgia?” Is a complicated one that doctors and patients have been trying for decades to answer.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that causes intense pain throughout the body, 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 that it has a group of signs, symptoms and characteristics that occur together.
To make a diagnosis, doctors usually rely on the signs and symptoms. To complicate the matter, the symptoms vary widely from one person to another, as does their intensity.
People with fibromyalgia often hurt the whole body and feel exhausted all the time. Those symptoms often force you to severely limit your physical activity. It is also common to have problems concentrating and remembering things. A lot of people with fibromyalgia have symptoms so severe that they have to quit smoking or modify their jobs.
Because fibromyalgia is often misunderstood, family, friends, co-workers and even health care providers can not believe that the person is really sick. A proper diagnosis often takes months.
Adding to these considerable frustrations, it can be difficult or impossible to qualify for disability benefits from Social Security. That’s largely because of what used to be commonplace for doctors to mislabel any chronic pain of unknown origin such as fibromyalgia, and the diagnosis is still misused so much nowadays.
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 the symptoms is different in each person, as well, ranging from moderate to very debilitating discomfort.
Common symptoms include:
not restful sleep
Cognitive or memory impairment (“fibro fog”)
Abdominal complaints, including irritable bowel syndrome
Frequently, people with undiagnosed fibromyalgia do not realize that a series of secondary symptoms are related to pain, fatigue and other primary symptoms. Maintaining a detailed list of symptoms can help the doctor make a diagnosis.
Additional symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
painful menstrual cramps
Eye sight problems
Nausea and dizziness
skin, hair and nail problems
muscle spasms and feeling of weakness
These lists include the most common symptoms. For a complete list of symptoms, see the list of Monster symptoms of fibromyalgia.
While a lot of treatments for fibromyalgia are available, you may have to experiment with different options before finding what works best for you.
Fibromyalgia treatment options include:
/ Alternative complementary treatments, including massage and physical therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture
Vitamins and supplements
Moderate exercise, but only if done correctly
Lifestyle changes, including diet, control of stress and rhythm
Every case of fibromyalgia is different, and no treatment works for everyone.
You will probably have to work closely with your doctor to tailor customized a treatment regimen that helps you become more functional. Many people benefit from a multidisciplinary approach, which involves several health professionals.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition. While some people experience long remissions, no one who has had fibromyalgia can really say they do not have it anymore.
As for the progression of the disease, it is difficult to tell if your symptoms improve or worsen over time. Because fibromyalgia is not degenerative, its course has not been clearly established as it is for many diseases.
Some experts say that about a third of us will get worse, a third will improve significantly, and the remaining third will remain on it. Some studies have linked diagnosis and early treatment for better long-term outcomes, but apart from this it is not clear what role it plays in the progression of treatment, or lack of it, of fibromyalgia.
As if all this were not enough, several other conditions frequently go along with fibromyalgia. The researchers
they are not sure if one condition leads to the other, or if they have been linked to underlying causes. Becoming familiar with the symptoms of these disorders can help you determine if 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)
The doctors coined the term fibromyalgia (fibro = fibrous tissue, mis = means muscle, pain = pain) in 1976, but it was not until 1990 that the American College of Rheumatology developed diagnostic criteria. While muscle pain is the main symptom, the research found that there is nothing wrong with the muscles themselves.
For a time, the researchers believed that it could be an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. It is now widely believed in the medical community that a malfunction of the central nervous system (called central sensitization) causes fibromyalgia, leading to new research on treatments and a new hope that fibromyalgia will not only be more treatable, but maybe even curable.
To date, three drugs – Lyrica (pregabalin), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Savella (milnacipran) – are approved by the FDA for the treatment of fibromyalgia, but many other drugs are prescribed off the label.
The history of Fibromyalgia
Common Fibromyalgia Terms
Click on the following terms to learn more about them:
The central sensitization
The sensitive points
For more terms related to fibromyalgia, see Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Glossary