Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition which leaves a person extremely tired, with an aching body and deep muscle pain. It's estimated nearly 3% of the population is affected and more women than men have the condition.
There is currently no cure - but there are treatments and people with mild to moderate fibromyalgia are able to live a near normal life.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
The severity of symptoms can change and are similar to a number of other conditions, which is why it can take time to get a diagnosis.
Pain. The main reason a person with fibromyalgia goes to their GP is pain, which affects more than 97% of people with the condition.
Fibromyalgia pain can be head to toe and felt over the entire body. It can be a deep, sharp, dull, throbbing or aching pain that is felt in the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the joints. It can be described as aching, burning, stabbing or tender.
Fatigue. Aside from pain, the other main symptom is fatigue. This is not just normal tiredness. Some describe it as being similar to the symptoms of flu. Others compare it to working long hours and missing a lot of sleep. You can feel tired when you wake up, too fatigued to start a relatively easy task, too tired to work, have sex or to exercise.
Other symptoms include:
Unrefreshing sleep. While people with fibromyalgia may fall asleep without difficulty, their sleep isn't good. During sleep, people with fibromyalgia have constant bursts of brain activity similar to the activity that occurs in the brain when they are awake. Tests in sleep laboratories have shown they experience interruptions in deep sleep and as a result they don't get enough deep sleep and their body can't rejuvenate itself.
Morning stiffness. Studies have shown that more than 75% of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia feel stiffness in the morning, the same type of stiffness people feel with many types of arthritis, especially rheumatoid or inflammatory arthritis. Some people say that the morning stiffness lasts only a few minutes, but in general, it is usually very noticeable for more than 15 to 20 minutes each day. In some cases it will last for hours, and in others it will be present all day.
Painful trigger or tender points. These trigger points are not random they are in predictable places on the body. For a person with fibromyalgia, pressing the trigger points is extremely painful.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) include:
- Depression and anxiety. These symptoms could be the result of living with constant pain and fatigue, but it is also possible that anxiety and depression may actually be a part of fibromyalgia, just like the pain.
- Extreme sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia). With this even the slightest touch can be painful or you may experience far more pain than the injury warrants. For example, stubbing your toe may be excruciating.
- Memory and concentration problems. This is also known as 'fibro fog'.
- Headaches. These are common in about 70% of people with fibromyalgia. They can be caused by tightness and contraction of the muscles of the neck, which results in tension-type headaches.
- Painful periods. Unusually painful menstrual cramps occur in 30% to 40% or more of women with fibromyalgia.
- Urinary problems. Feeling an urge to wee, going for a wee a lot, painful urination, or incontinence can happen in about 25% or more of fibromyalgia cases.
- Irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is a digestive disorder. It causes pain and bloating in the stomach and can lead to constipation or diarrhoea, abdominal gas and feeling sick, all symptoms found in roughly 40% to 70% of patients with fibromyalgia. Acid reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease ( GORD) also occurs with the same frequency.
- Swelling, numbness and tingling. This occurs in hands, arms, feet and legs and is known as paraesthesia. These sensations, which may be constant, or may last just a few minutes, are felt by more than half of people with fibromyalgia.
- Restless leg syndrome. This can be a problem, especially at night.
- Dry mouth. Around 25% of people with fibromyalgia say they have dryness in their mouth, nose or eyes. This is sometimes caused by Sjögren's syndrome - when the salivary glands and tear glands do not produce enough saliva. This loss of lubrication can increase the risk of infections.
- Raynaud's syndrome. This is said to be present in 25% to 50% of people with fibromyalgia. Raynaud's syndrome, also known as Raynaud's phenomenon, consists of spasms of the small arteries of the fingers and sometimes the toes, brought on by exposure to cold or stress. They become quite pale, cold or blue and painful but will return to normal when the hands or feet are warmed.
- Being too hot or too cold. People with fibromyalgia are often unable to properly regulate their body temperature.
- Sensitivity to environmental factors – such as changes in the weather, bright lights, noise, smoke, smells, medications and some foods.
Remember if you have fibromyalgia that the condition may not be responsible for all your symptoms. For example, an infection may be why you're having urinary difficulties and other medical problems can bring on headaches. So, if you're not sure what the cause is it's important to seek medical advice.