Starting in the early 1800s, physicians have recognized a condition characterized by widespread pain, stiff muscles, profound fatigue and disturbed sleep, which they called “muscular rheumatism”, fibromyositis, or fibrositis. Now known as fibromyalgia, this chronic condition affects up to six percent of the population. The vast majority of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women, but men and children can also have the illness.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by fatigue and widespread musculoskeletal pain that is present above and below the waist especially in “tender points.” Symptoms can also include mental processing problems, for example, problems with short-term memory and concentration, headaches, sleep disorders, heat/cold intolerance, anxiety or emotional numbness, heart problems, including rhythm abnormalities, and marked weight change.
Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.
Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.
While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a variety of medications can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction measures also may help.
What causes fibromyalgia is not well understood. However, most patients describe a physical trauma, such as a whiplash or neck injury from a car accident, or a viral infection, or emotional trauma at the beginning of their fibromyalgia pain.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
Widespread pain. The pain associated with fibromyalgia often is described as a constant dull ache that has lasted for at least three months. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.
Fatigue. People with fibromyalgia often awaken tired, even though they report sleeping for long periods of time. Sleep is often disrupted by pain, and many patients with fibromyalgia have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.
Cognitive difficulties. A symptom commonly referred to as “fibro fog” impairs the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks.
Fibromyalgia often co-exists with other painful conditions, such as:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Migraine and other types of headaches
Interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome
Temporomandibular joint disorders
Postural tachycardia syndrome
Doctors don’t know what causes fibromyalgia, but it most likely involves a variety of factors working together. These may include:…
Genetics. Because fibromyalgia tends to run in families, there may be certain genetic mutations that may make you more susceptible to developing the disorder.
Infections. Some illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia.
Physical or emotional trauma. Fibromyalgia can sometimes be triggered by a physical trauma, such as a car accident. Psychological stress may also trigger the condition.
- What is Fibromyalgia?
- Mourning of Its Disease
- Fibromyalgia: Does Your Family ‘Get It?’
- How to Explain Pain to your Doctor (video)