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Fibromyalgia - Symptoms of fibromyalgia

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Fibromyalgia has many symptoms, although the main symptom is pain. The symptoms tend to vary from person to person and it is unlikely they will ever disappear completely.

Your symptoms may sometimes get better or worse, depending on factors such as:

  • changes in the weather
  • your stress levels
  • how physically active you are

The main symptoms of fibromyalgia are outlined below.

Pain

If you have fibromyalgia, one of your main symptoms is likely to be widespread pain. This may be felt throughout your body, but could be worse in particular areas, such as your back or neck. The pain is likely to be continuous, although it may be better or more severe at different times.

The pain could feel like:

  • an ache
  • a burning sensation
  • a sharp stabbing pain

Extreme sensitivity

Fibromyalgia can cause you to become extremely sensitive to pain all over your body, and you may find that even the slightest touch is painful. If you hurt yourself, for example if you stub your toe, you may find that the pain continues for much longer than it normally would.

You may hear this described in the following medical terms:

  • hyperalgesia - when you are extremely sensitive to pain
  • allodynia - when you feel pain from something that should not be painful at all, such as a very light touch

If you have fibromyalgia, you may find you are sensitive to other things as well, such as smoke, certain foods and bright lights. Being exposed to something you are sensitive to can cause your other fibromyalgia symptoms to flare up.

Stiffness

Fibromyalgia can make you feel stiff.  The stiffness may be most severe when you have been in the same position for a long period of time, such as when you first wake up in the morning.

Fibromyalgia can also cause your muscles to spasm, which is when they contract (squeeze) tightly and painfully. This can affect your sleep (see below).

Fatigue

Fatigue (extreme tiredness) as a result of fibromyalgia can range from a mild, tired feeling to the exhaustion often experienced during a flu-like illness. Sometimes, severe fatigue may come on very suddenly and can drain you of all your energy. If this occurs, you may feel too tired to do anything at all.

Poor quality sleep

Fibromyalgia can affect your sleep. You may find you often wake up tired even when you have had plenty of sleep. This is because fibromyalgia can sometimes prevent you from sleeping deeply enough to refresh you properly. You may hear this described as 'non-restorative sleep'.

Cognitive problems ('fibro-fog')

Cognitive problems are problems with mental processes, such as thinking and learning. If you have fibromyalgia, you may have:

  • trouble remembering and learning new things
  • problems with attention and concentration
  • slowed or confused speech

Headaches

If you have pain and stiffness in your neck and shoulders from fibromyalgia, you may also have frequent headaches. These can vary from being mild headaches to severe migraines, which may also involve other symptoms, such as nausea (feeling sick).

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

If you have fibromyalgia, you may develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well. IBS is a common digestive condition that causes pain and bloating in your stomach. It can also cause constipation (when you are unable to empty your bowels) and diarrhoea (passing loose stools).

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of fibromyalgia can include:

  • not being able to regulate your body temperature (feeling too hot or too cold)
  • restless legs syndrome (unpleasant sensations in your legs and feeling like you need to move your legs to get some relief)
  • tingling, numbness, prickling, or burning sensations in your hands and feet (paresthesia)
  • tinnitus (the perception of a noise in one or both ears that comes from inside your body)
  • unusually painful periods (in women)
  • anxiety 
  • depression (see below)

Depression

It is possible for fibromyalgia to lead to depression. This is because the condition can be difficult to deal with, and low levels of certain hormones, such as serotonin, can make you prone to developing depression.

Depression can cause many symptoms, including:

  • constantly feeling low
  • a lack of interest in the things you usually enjoy
  • feeling tearful

If you think you may be depressed, it is important to get help from your GP, or your fibromyalgia healthcare professional.

Medical Review: April 03, 2012
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