When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia eight years ago, I laughed. To me, it was the catch-all diagnosis when the doctor really did not know what your problem was. I even shied away from telling people and when I did I would shrug it off and say it was all in my head.

Research then didn’t reveal very much about the “disease.” Since that time, more information has come out that shows that fibromyalgia is a real disease.

Definition

Fibromyalgia is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:

a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain, tenderness, and stiffness of muscles and associated connective tissue structures that is typically accompanied by fatigue, headache, and sleep disturbances.

Causes

Research has yet to pinpoint the cause of fibromyalgia. According to Medical News Today, “current thinking in the field of Rheumatology suggests that fibromyalgia is a problem with central pain processing in the brain, where there may be an increased sensitivity or perception of pain to a given trigger.”

Risk factors:

  • A prior diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disease
  • Genetic factors
  • A stressful, traumatic injury, either physical or emotional
  • Females with other family members with the same diagnosis

Symptoms

  • General widespread pain
  • Pain in joints and muscle –pain resembles arthritis pain but fibromyalgia effects the soft tissue not the joint
  • Cold or flu-like symptoms
  • Difficulties with concentration and memory – called “fibro-fog”
  • Difficulty sleeping and remaining asleep which results in being tired throughout the day
  • Tender points–there are 18 spots on your body that will cause some pain for those with fibromyalgia. Those without will only feel pressure.
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Jaw and face pain
  • Problems with bowels–constipation or diarrhea
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Restless leg syndrome

Diagnosis

Fibromyalgia is a clinical diagnosis. While your doctor will send you for bloodwork and x-rays, and possibly other lab tests depending on your symptoms, these are done to rule out other diagnoses. You and your doctor will have to rely on the information you give to him/her. This should include your family’s medical history.

Recently the American College of Rheumatology has established the following criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia:

  1. Pain and symptoms over the past week, based on the total of number of painful areas out of 18 parts of the body plus level of severity of these symptoms: (a) fatigue, (b) waking unrefreshed and (c) cognitive (memory or thought problems)
  2. Symptoms lasting at least three months at a similar level
  3. No other health problem that would explain the pain and other symptoms

Treatment

Depending on your symptoms and your daily life, your doctor can prescribe pain relievers, antidepressants, muscle relaxers, and drugs to aid you in sleeping. Narcotic drugs tend to not work well over the long run and have the risk of dependency.

It is recommended that people with fibromyalgia have a routine moderate exercise program. You will want to do exercises that help stretch and strengthen your muscles and help build your endurance.

If you’re diagnosed, remember, it is not “all in your head.” And there is sure to be a support group close to your home.