Fibromyalgia is a tricky thing to diagnose. For starters, it’s not a disease, it’s a syndrome, which means it’s made up of a collection of symptoms that occur together. These symptoms are what make fibromyalgia so hard to pinpoint, as they’re often things you may feel in your daily life. How many times have you felt overly tired, anxious, or suffered from headaches? Most of the time these issues can be attributed to nothing more than a lack of sleep, stress or bad eating habits, but there may be more going on.
To help you navigate this confusing syndrome, it helps to understand the major symptoms. Here’s what we know.
Pain throughout your body is the main symptom of fibromyalgia. It’s described as a constant dull ache. You may feel something like it after a hard workout, but for this dull ache to be taken seriously, most doctors will ask if it has lasted for at least three months. To be truly considered widespread pain, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.
In addition to dull, widespread pain, those who have fibromyalgia also have extremely sensitive and tender areas throughout the body, which are called “trigger points.” Even lightly pressing on these areas may cause pain. According to the American College of Rheumatology, a person can be diagnosed with fibromyalgia if they have tenderness in at least 11 of these 18 known trigger points in addition to the widespread pain throughout the body. These trigger points include the back of the head, tops of the shoulders, hips, knees, upper chest, and outer elbows.
This is a tricky one because chronic fatigue is itself difficult to diagnose. It can be caused by your lifestyle, sickness, stress, or multiple diseases and syndromes. If you think you have fibromyalgia, it’s important to consider chronic fatigue only in addition to fibromyalgia’s other symptoms. Not sure if your endless need for sleep translates into chronic fatigue? Chronic fatigue will make you feel so tired you can’t complete normal, daily activities and may develop after a flu-like illness or a period of high stress.
If you have fibromyalgia, you may notice you’re not thinking as clearly or quickly as you once did. This symptom is called “fibro-fog” as it can impair your ability to learn new things, remember information, concentrate, and may even show itself through slow or confused speech. If you notice changes to the way you think, react, and speak or find yourself feeling mentally foggy in addition to the other fibromyalgia’s other symptoms, it may benefit you to research the syndrome further.
Many people with fibromyalgia also suffer from a closely associated sleep disorder. This disorder prevents you from achieving the deep, restorative sleep your body needs to recover, particularly the fourth stage of deep sleep. People with fibromyalgia are constantly pulled from deep sleep by bursts of awake-like brain activity. This constant wake to sleep cycle limits the amount of time you actually spend in that much-needed state of deep sleep.