Fibromyalgia Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia
Table of Contents
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that impacts the entire body. It is difficult to diagnose, and it coexists with many other disorders. It should be taken seriously since it can affect someone’s daily living drastically if it goes untreated.
What is Fibromyalgia?
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Several different factors cause fibromyalgia. Normally, it is unclear why someone develops it.
According to the NHS in the United Kingdom, fibromyalgia can be caused by the following issues:5
- Abnormal pain messages
- Chemical imbalances
- Sleep problems
- Associated Conditions
- Different Triggers
Most people do not develop fibromyalgia unless it is triggered by something that causes significant stress. This stress could be things such as an injury, surgery, giving birth, domestic violence, grief, breakup, or even a viral infection.
Uncovering the Mystery of Fibromyalgia
Is Fibromyalgia an Autoimmune Disease?
Fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body starts attacking itself due to the immune system identifying good cells as harmful ones. Fibromyalgia does not cause damage to bodily tissues. Additionally, it does not cause inflammation. However, fibromyalgia coincides with autoimmune disorders sometimes, which can make diagnosis challenging.6
One of the biggest fibromyalgia symptoms that occur is musculoskeletal pain. This pain impacts muscles, ligaments, bones, nerves, and tendons. The amount of pain a person feels can vary. Fibromyalgia is known as a chronic pain disorder because the pain continues for elongated periods. Musculoskeletal pain caused by other disorders such as arthritis, osteoporosis, injuries, muscle loss, and scoliosis can all trigger fibromyalgia.7
Physical/ Emotional trauma
Physical and emotional trauma is another cause of fibromyalgia. Normally, fibromyalgia is triggered by a traumatic event. Events such as breakups, emotionally or physically abusive situations, and traumatic experiences can cause fibromyalgia. Normally, this trauma coincides with other factors and is not the sole factor of fibromyalgia.8
More in Women Than Men
According to a few studies, fibromyalgia tends to peak in women during their reproductive years. Because of this factor, some doctors have hypothesized that female hormones might play a role in the development and severity of the disorder. Rising and falling levels of estrogen seem to have some factor in the severity of fibromyalgia.9
Some research has pointed to fibromyalgia being hereditary, which would help explain why fibromyalgia develops after different triggering events. Although doctors are not fully sure of what causes fibromyalgia, they do have a good sense of what might trigger it to form in people and that multiple triggers are normally involved.
Is Fibromyalgia Hereditary?
As discussed in the previous paragraph, several different studies suggest fibromyalgia might be hereditary. However, this issue does not seem to be passed directly from parent to child. Nevertheless, it does seem to cluster in families.
Research shows that the chance of fibromyalgia is “several times higher in the immediate families of people with fibromyalgia” than in families in which no one has fibromyalgia. These types of studies have also found through DNA research that several genes could potentially explain why fibromyalgia seems to run in families.10
Is Fibromyalgia real?
Fibromyalgia is a very real chronic pain syndrome. Doctors have found different factors such as abnormalities in the brain and nervous system that processes pain signals, both of which contribute to fibromyalgia. Medical professionals have also found other data that backs up that muscle pains are very much real.11
What Does Fibromyalgia Feel Like?
The amount of pain someone with fibromyalgia feels varies. Most people describe the pain as burning or like a pins and needles sensation. This pain can also be caused by things that normally should not be painful such as a breeze, a handshake, waistbands, a shirt tag, or other things that might cause slight pressure or sensations.
However, pain is not the only fibromyalgia symptom. Things such as sleep disorders, panic disorders, tenderness, or fatigue can also be very common fibromyalgia symptoms.12
Some people describe having the feeling of being “pounded by a meat tenderizer.”12 This tenderness can feel like electric zings, too, and it can feel like a sunburn or very sensitive areas along the body. As such, tight clothing or anything that applies pressure to the body can be very painful.
Fibromyalgia can cause sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and other sleep disorders, which can lead to extreme fatigue. This issue is normally due to poor sleep quality, and the amount of exhaustion a person feels throughout any given day can vary. Many people describe this feeling as the same way someone would experience exhaustion after having the flu.12
Widespread Pain - Musculoskeletal
Normally, the musculoskeletal pain that people experience when they have fibromyalgia is like a constant ache, sometimes dull and sometimes sharp. The pain will show up on both sides of the body both above the waist and below it.
Types of Arthritis
Arthritis is a group of diseases that cause joint pain or joint issues. There are more than one hundred types of arthritis. Many times, fibromyalgia happens alongside arthritis or is triggered by it.
Is Fibromyalgia a Form of Arthritis?
Fibromyalgia causes pain within muscles, soft tissues, tendons, and joints. Arthritis primarily focuses on issues with joints. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder, but it is not arthritis. However, people who might have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or some autoimmune diseases have a higher chance of developing fibromyalgia.13
Numerous co-occurring conditions can happen alongside or trigger fibromyalgia. Some of them include:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Painful Bladder Syndrome
- Mental health disorders
- Postural tachycardia syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Several different forms of arthritis also co-occur with fibromyalgia. They are:14
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia can have very similar symptoms. They both cause tendinitis and bursitis. The main difference is osteoarthritis normally has these symptoms in a very specific area. Fibromyalgia symptoms tend to spread throughout the entire body. It can be difficult to separate the two, and that can be even more difficult if they become co-occurring conditions.15
Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia are linked diseases. Between 10-20% of people with rheumatoid arthritis have fibromyalgia. Both diseases have common risk factors, and they can play off one another. If your immune system is attacking healthy muscle tissues, you will have a higher risk of fibromyalgia. Because of this aspect, it can be difficult to get an accurate diagnosis.16
Lupus and fibromyalgia share a lot of symptoms and are both chronic. The main difference between the two is that lupus is an autoimmune disease and fibromyalgia causes musculoskeletal pain. Both diseases cause a lot of pain, lupus can be life-threatening while fibromyalgia is not. Both conditions can coincide, making treatment a little bit tougher as well. To distinguish the two, doctors normally must do an in-depth physical evaluation.17
Signs of Fibromyalgia
Some of the main fibromyalgia symptoms revolve around pain and tenderness within joints or muscles. Because it is a chronic pain disorder, the pain must have continued for over three months. Multiple signs indicant that you might be developing fibromyalgia. Doctors will make sure to rule out autoimmune diseases first before giving a diagnosis.
Some of the first signs of fibromyalgia are fatigue, a lack of energy, sleep issues, headaches, muscle cramps or spasms, numbness in extremities, and skin problems like burning or itching.18 Many of these symptoms overlap with other disorders making it tricky to diagnose.
Fibromyalgia Pain Points
The muscle pains and aches become chronic and more severe as it progresses. Several pain points are spread throughout the body. These include your temple, the back of your head, the bottom of your neck, sternum, inside of your elbow, your knees, below your buttocks, your lower back, and throughout your upper back along your shoulder blades.
Eventually, people who have fibromyalgia will start to have memory problems or difficulties concentrating on tasks. Depression and anxiety are linked alongside fibromyalgia, too. Since this disease impacts the brain and abnormalities in areas that deal with pain tend to be found, it can cause major cognitive difficulties with other aspects of the brain.
If you or a loved one are showing a lot of these early signs of fibromyalgia for over three months, it is very important to seek out professional help.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
There are several different symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many of them are chronic and can interfere with day-to-day activities. If you are experiencing many of these over an elongated period, it might be a good idea to see a health care professional.
Chronic Pain Symptoms
Musculoskeletal pain is the most severe and most common symptom of fibromyalgia. It is where you feel pain throughout all the pain points to varying levels of severity. One thing that is unique about fibromyalgia is that the pain is widespread across all the pain points, not just in one location.
Fatigue is another common symptom among people who have fibromyalgia because many sleep conditions like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea occur alongside fibromyalgia. Sometimes, sleep cycles are interrupted due to pain at night, or the person might wake up feeling tired even after sleeping for a long time.
Many times, people will experience numbness in their arms and feet when they have fibromyalgia. People tend to compare this to the feeling of blood rushing back into an extremity after it fell asleep.
Many people who have fibromyalgia also struggle with irritable bowel syndrome. Over 50% of people who suffer from fibromyalgia have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Some digestive problems are diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and mid-abdominal pain.19
For similar reasons a person might experience fatigue, they might also have nonrestorative sleep. Pain might wake the person up throughout the night making it difficult to fall back asleep. Additionally, a person that does fall asleep throughout the night might experience nonrestorative sleep, where they wake up feeling as if they never slept. Many compare these symptoms to that of recovering from the flu.
Risk Factors of Fibromyalgia
There are several different risk factors for fibromyalgia. Things such as age, genetics, trauma, and autoimmune diseases can all greatly increase your risk of developing fibromyalgia. It is essential to monitor these things, especially if the pain starts to become chronic and wide-spreading.
Studies show that you are much more likely to develop fibromyalgia if you have close relatives that have it. Fibromyalgia tends to affect families in clusters. They have found several genes that deal with the way people process pain, so having a genetic link to fibromyalgia greatly increases your risk of developing the disease
Obesity is another factor regarding developing fibromyalgia. Obesity causes stress on organs, muscles, and joints. Adding more weight can easily cause fibromyalgia to flare up, which is also the case regarding the development of autoimmune diseases the coincide with fibromyalgia.
Repetitive injuries in a specific area can cause fibromyalgia to trigger, especially if you have needed surgery. Multiple injuries to the same area can weaken the muscles, tendons, and bones around the area making it more likely that nerve damage might have been done. This issue can lead to fibromyalgia eventually flaring up, especially if it is near the pain points.
Traumatic events are one of the most significant triggers when it comes to fibromyalgia. If someone has experienced a traumatic event, that added stress is enough to enable fibromyalgia to develop, especially if the person is more susceptible to the disease. PTSD can have a greater impact because flashbacks and anxiety can add even more repetitive stress to the person.
Learning More About Fibromyalgia
Co-existing Conditions with Fibromyalgia
There are several co-existing conditions with fibromyalgia. As stated above, around 50% of people with fibromyalgia show signs of irritable bowel syndrome. Chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, anxiety, and depression are all examples of co-existing conditions.
Over half of people who have fibromyalgia suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. Some symptoms are diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and mid-abdominal pain.19 These two syndromes tend to co-exist frequently.
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, better known as TMJ, occurs frequently in people with fibromyalgia. Some symptoms that tend to occur are clicking and popping sounds while moving one’s mouth, facial pain, and muscle pain in the head or neck area.20
Due to the extra stress and pain, fibromyalgia can lead to chronic migraines and headaches. Fibromyalgia targets the brain and nervous system, so it makes sense that these two things would co-exist.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Due to all of the issues fibromyalgia causes with sleep cycles, chronic fatigue syndrome tends to co-exist. Fibromyalgia can cause sleep apnea, nonrestorative sleep, and restless leg syndrome. Chronic fatigue is bound to set in after months of having these issues, especially if it is left untreated.
Anxiety and Depression
Studies have found that anti-depressant medication can lower symptoms of fibromyalgia because both tend to be caused by abnormalities in the brain. A feeling of isolation can also occur when someone is feeling chronic pain because it makes it more difficult to do day-to-day tasks causing more separation.
Postural Tachycardia Syndrome
Postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is a medical condition that has an impact on the ability of blood to flow throughout the body.21 It can cause things such as lightheadedness, an increase in heartbeat, or fainting, especially when standing up. People who have fibromyalgia will often report having symptoms of POTS (Staud, 2008).22
How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
Because it is debated what exactly causes fibromyalgia, there is no way to diagnose it. Normally, doctors will have to rule out other autoimmune diseases and conditions before diagnosing fibromyalgia.
Normally, doctors will perform diagnostic tests for other chronic conditions to rule them out. They will also do things such as blood tests, x-rays, or EMG tests. As they go through this, doctors will attempt to make a diagnosis that is not fibromyalgia.
They will also be giving them a physical, and the patient will let the doctor know any areas that might be tender points. If other relatives have these pressure points, too, they will most likely diagnose fibromyalgia if everything else is ruled out. There does not have to be a genetic link, but it makes the likelihood of fibromyalgia increase.
To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia syndrome, the patient must have pain in some of the tender points and have other symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, there is not an exact amount. There must be multiple, and the pain must be chronic for over three months. The pain must also be widespread and there must be severe symptoms to get a diagnosis.23
Misdiagnosis can be a difficult issue with fibromyalgia. It is sometimes misdiagnosed as arthritis. Moreover, a lot of the symptoms overlap with hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sleep apnea, and malignancy.24 That is why it is so important for doctors to eliminate everything else before diagnosing fibromyalgia.
Process of Elimination
Maintenance Treatment for Fibromyalgia
Symptoms of fibromyalgia vary from person to person, and treatment can come in several different ways. Normally, doctors will prescribe a few different medications and introduce different self-care strategies. They will do a variety of treatments to ensure that something will work.
Doctors will normally prescribe some sort of painkiller. Many times, they will be something like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium. Doctors will avoid prescribing opioids because it can lead to more damage in the long term.27
Doctors might prescribe NSAIDs to help with any inflammation that might occur due to coexisting issues. However, fibromyalgia does not cause inflammation directly. Therefore, it would be prescribed to help with potential side effects that are being caused by it or other coexisting issues. They also help a lot with headaches and cramps.
Studies have found that antidepressants can help with pain and fatigue because they affect similar aspects of the brain. Doctors will normally prescribe Duloxetine or milnacipran to help with fibromyalgia.
Benzodiazepines will be prescribed to help relax people’s muscles to improve their sleep quality. These will help with improving sleep quality and relieving some of the major symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Neuromapping is the process of mapping out the different changes that have taken place within the brain due to fibromyalgia. It allows the doctor to better treat the patient and address the specific problem that is occurring.28
A Conversation on Fibromyalgia Treatments
Several alternative treatment methods can be used alongside or separately from medication.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychological treatment that helps a person learn different behaviors they have and why they do them. The goal is for the patient to find a way to lower stress or change behaviors within themselves. CBT can be helpful to keep stress low and change unhealthy habits to better live with fibromyalgia.
Yoga helps to lower symptoms of fibromyalgia. Yoga can help lower pain among the main pain points in the body. It also decreases stress, which tends to amplify fibromyalgia. Introducing yoga into your routine twice a week can help you tremendously with lowering pain.29
Similar to yoga, exercise can help with lowering stress and pain within the body. By adding in a normal workout routine, a person can lower a lot of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, and it can help with getting better sleep.
Stress Reduction Techniques
Finally, using stress reduction techniques like meditation can help substantially. As stated throughout this article, stress can be one of the biggest factors when triggering fibromyalgia.
However, by incorporating different things into your life to lower the amount of stress you have and to manage better whenever it comes, you will be steps ahead when it comes to managing the pain.
Fibromyalgia diagnosis can be difficult to find, and it can be difficult to treat. Fibromyalgia causes a lot of pain throughout the body, and it can inhibit daily life. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia, start the process of seeking out a doctor. Diagnosis might take a while, but treatment sooner rather than later is important.