In today’s day and age, there are just too many diseases and disorders to keep track of. It is not uncommon to hear family, friends and acquaintances recount their own or someone else’s experience with a rare, novel disease. Sadly, what would have shocked us a few years ago is now common knowledge.
Of course, in the face of such grave developments, hope is never lost on the human race, and we are more resilient than ever.
It is to the credit of the brilliant scientific and medical communities around the world that we have cures for many diseases and disorders and are on our way to finding many more.
However, a key factor is cultivating a more holistic understanding of the diseases and disorders of the world, so we may seek adequate treatment before the diseases get the better of our health. Awareness about many disorders remains minimal these days, and that is cause for concern.
Fibromyalgia is one such disease. It is a disorder of the muscles, joints and fibrous tissues. People often describe it as a state of feeling perpetually sick.
Fibromyalgia affects about 2 to 8 percent of the global population and can occur at any age, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is more common in women than men.
Because its symptoms resemble common, everyday illnesses that could indicate just about anything, people tend not to view them as a sign of something more serious.
Overtime, fibromyalgia could worsen, and severely undermine the quality of one’s personal and professional life.
Note: A person with fibromyalgia will display a significant amount of many of these symptoms together. Generally, the symptoms of this complex disorder tend to vary from person to person.
Here are 10 signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia you should know.
1. Persistent Widespread Body Pain
This is one of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia suffer a persistent body ache that is spread out around 18 specific parts of the body. These body parts may be sore when touched or lightly pressed upon.
Patients of fibromyalgia have chronic widespread pain and report about 11 to 18 tender body points, according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Rheumatology.
These specific points on the body are the areas around either side of the collarbone, the upper part of the chest, the insides of the elbows, the areas going inwards beside the knees, the back of the neck, the middle of the shoulders, the upper back, and the upper portion and middle of the buttocks.
Although the intensity of pain varies from person to person, it is generally described as a shooting muscular pain.
Persistent fatigue is another key symptom of fibromyalgia and is the second most common one.
Fatigue is one of the most common complaints among fibromyalgia patients, but it has received less attention than chronic body pain, according to a 2013 study published in Arthritis Research and Therapy.
Fatigue does not occur on its own, but in combination with other symptoms of fibromyalgia, the study further notes. Unlike regular fatigue, which may be described as a state of exhaustion, fibromyalgia-related fatigue is accompanied with feelings of depression, and often, social withdrawal.
Although a good nap during the daytime may help reduce fatigue in fibromyalgia patients on some days, on other days when their symptoms are acting up, fatigue may become especially hard to deal with.
3. Sleep Disturbances
People with fibromyalgia have trouble falling asleep, and when they do, they have trouble maintaining sound sleep and wake up feeling unrefreshed and low on energy.
Non-restorative sleep, thus, is another classic symptom of fibromyalgia, and clinical sleep studies also reveal that fibromyalgia patients report erratic rhythms characteristic of disturbed sleep, according to a 2015 study published in Nature Reviews Rheumatology.
In fibromyalgia patients, bearing the pain and non-restorative sleep combo is a Herculean trial. On the one hand, pain inhibits sleep, and on the other hand lack of sleep increases pain.
However, patients who suffer sleeplessness also begin to develop symptoms of fibromyalgia, the study further notes. This debunks the belief that chronic body pain is solely to blame for sleep problems in fibromyalgia.
Lack of sleep is a major contributor to decreased productivity in fibromyalgia patients, and improving the quality of sleep may lessen pain related to fibromyalgia.
Headaches are a common symptom, occurring in about half of patients of fibromyalgia, according to a 2005 study published in Clinical Rheumatology.
Out of 100 fibromyalgia patients, 76 percent reported headaches as a commonly occurring symptom, with 84 percent reporting intense headaches and 63 percent experiencing migraines, the study further notes.
Chronic migraines (acute pain on one side of the head, often accompanied by nausea and an aversion to bright lights and loud noise) and chronic tension-type (regular) headaches are commonly symptoms of fibromyalgia.
According to a 2009 study published in Cephalalgia, patients who frequently suffer headaches are at a greater risk for fibromyalgia, and frequent headaches often accompany pain and tenderness symptoms in fibromyalgia patients.
People who suffer from migraines also present a high risk of developing, or already having developed, fibromyalgia. Out of 1,730 fibromyalgia patients, 55.8 percent reported recurring migraines, according to a 2015 study published in Headache.
5. Depression & Anxiety
Fibromyalgia patients may have a hard time keeping their spirits high. In fact, patients of fibromyalgia are at a significantly higher risk of becoming depressed, and depressed people are at a higher risk of developing fibromyalgia, according to a 2015 study published in The Journal of Pain.
Depression in fibromyalgia patients poses a serious risk of intensifying other symptoms, as a depressed person will find it harder to cope with other struggles. It can seriously wreck one’s mental well-being and make the person feel hopeless and like a victim of the disease.
Out of 30 patients of fibromyalgia, 83.3 percent were diagnosed as clinically depressed, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
Anxiety, another symptom of fibromyalgia, almost always occurs as a companion to depression in fibromyalgia patients.
It is common to feel nervous or anxious about daily occurrences in life and the difficulties that may come. One may feel anxious before a job interview or an airplane flight. However, an anxiety disorder is far more serious than simple jitters.
It is a mental illness in which one feels so overwhelmed by fear and nervousness that it interferes with his or her daily life. It usually occurs with other fibromyalgia symptoms and may also intensify the other symptoms.
A fibromyalgia patient who suffers anxiety may have an enhanced perception of chronic body pain, for instance.
Out of 115 fibromyalgia patients, 74.8 percent were diagnosed with anxiety, according to a 2004 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine.
Out of 529 patients of fibromyalgia, a greater percentage (71 percent) reported anxiety than depression (56 percent), according to a 2007 study published in Pain Medicine.
6. Sensory Overload
People suffering from fibromyalgia are often sensitive to cold temperatures, noise, bright light, and movement. In fact, this complex disorder is linked to multiple chemical sensitivities (being hypersensitive to certain chemicals and smells).
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Pain also noted that fibromyalgia patients display sensitivity to several sensory stimuli.
The study further suggests that this condition is associated with a global central nervous system augmentation in sensory processing.
Plus, an earlier 1997 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology found that 33 out of 60 fibromyalgia patients met the criteria for multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome.
7. Morning Stiffness
If you have been experiencing a group of the symptoms described above, and wake up feeling stiff in the joints and muscles, unable to move yourself out of bed, you might be suffering from fibromyalgia.
Morning stiffness was identified as a common symptom in fibromyalgia patients, according to a survey of 2,596 fibromyalgia patients published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders in 2007.
Morning stiffness is exacerbated by poor sleep and body pain. Although many people, including doctors, may consider it a non-serious symptom, it can be extremely distressing for fibromyalgia patients who go through it regularly, and in conjunction with other symptoms.
8. Memory and Concentration Problems
A phrase that has become popular in this connection is “fibro fog”, or a mental foggy buildup that forms around the brains of fibromyalgia patients, preventing them from remembering things and concentrating.
You may find yourself forgetting and/or mixing up names and other details. You may suddenly notice a significantly reduced attention span.
People with fibromyalgia may often talk slowly and find it unable to sustain a conversation due to their lack of alertness and inability to remember things.
Keeping up with deadlines may suddenly become daunting and you may find yourself falling behind on chores that previously seemed effortless.
Tests conducted on fibromyalgia patients revealed mental deceleration mimicking two decades of aging and difficulty concentrating on complex memory exercises, according to a 2008 study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Mental impairment in fibromyalgia may increase with other symptoms, such as lack of sleep, depression, anxiety and body pain.
9. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that presents symptoms like diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain. It is more common in women than men.
IBS is a condition commonly associated with fibromyalgia, with the risk of IBS being significantly higher in fibromyalgia patients, according to a 2015 study published in Medicine.
IBS and fibromyalgia often occur together. It is likely that if you have one condition, you probably have the other condition as well.
In both the conditions, the nervous system becomes more sensitive and your brain’s pain perception heightens.
10. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is an unusual and irritating disorder that causes uncomfortable feelings and sensations in the legs, prompting the urge to keep fidgeting. Many people describe it as something repeatedly crawling up and down their legs.
RLS is more common in patients with fibromyalgia than those without it, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Also, RLS is more common in women with fibromyalgia, according to a 2009 study published in European Neurology.
Furthermore, RLS may severely exacerbate the intensity and frequency of other fibromyalgia symptoms, such as disruptive sleep.
However, RLS is easily treatable, and may help to combat and reduce the discomfort caused by other fibromyalgia symptoms.