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What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome, is a chronic condition that characteristically causes pain all over the body, including muscle and joint pain, and fatigue as well as other symptoms. Fibromyalgia can lead to depression and social isolation.

In this overview of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), we'll explain the symptoms. We'll talk about diagnosis and treatment. We'll also explain the impact fibromyalgia has on lives. The impact comes from the tremendous physical and psychological strains that come with FMS. Those strains can lead to loss of work hours, reduced income, and even loss of a job.

What is fibromyalgia syndrome?

A syndrome is a set of symptoms. When they exist together, they imply the presence of a specific disease or a greater chance of developing the disease. With FMS, the following symptoms commonly occur together:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Decreased pain threshold or tender points
  • Incapacitating fatigue
  • Widespread pain

Are women more likely to get fibromyalgia than men?

Most fibromyalgia patients are women ranging in age from 25 to 60. The truth is women are 10 times more likely to get this disease than men.

What are fibromyalgia symptoms?

Fibromyalgia causes you to ache all over. You may have symptoms of crippling fatigue -- even on arising. Specific trigger points or tender points on the body may be painful to touch. You may experience swelling, disturbances in deep-level or restful sleep, and mood disturbances or depression.

Your muscles may feel like they have been overworked or pulled. They'll feel that way even without exercise or another cause. Sometimes, your muscles twitch, burn, or have deep stabbing pain.

Some patients with FMS have pain and achiness around the joints in the neck, shoulder, back, and hips. This makes it difficult for them to sleep or exercise. Other fibromyalgia symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Chronic headaches
  • Difficulty maintaining sleep or light sleep
  • Dryness in mouth, nose, and eyes
  • Fatigue upon arising
  • Hypersensitivity to cold and/or heat
  • Inability to concentrate (called "fibro fog")
  • Incontinence
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers and feet
  • Painful menstrual cramps
  • Poor circulation in hands and feet (called Raynaud's phenomenon)
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Stiffness

Fibromyalgia can cause signs and feelings similar to osteoarthritis, bursitis and tendonitis

What tests are used to diagnose fibromyalgia?

There are no specific laboratory tests to diagnose fibromyalgia. To make an accurate diagnosis, your GP will rely on a comprehensive physical examination and your medical history. Your GP will also use a diagnosis of exclusion. That means the GP will rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms.

To rule out other illnesses your GP may run some specific blood tests. For example your GP may ask for a full blood count (FBC). The GP may also ask for tests for substances such as glucose that can create problems similar to problems caused by fibromyalgia. A thyroid test may also be done. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause problems similar to fibromyalgia. That includes fatigue, muscle aches, weakness and depression.

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