Fibromyalgia is a bewildering and largely misunderstood disorder characterized by widespread pain and tenderness accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory issues, and gastrointestinal concerns. Because the array of possible symptoms is so extensive (and there remains no clear consensus on how to diagnose the disorder), many feel lost as to what is affecting them and what to do about it. The most important thing to remember is that fibromyalgia may be poorly understood, but it is very real.
By becoming more aware of the signs and symptoms of the condition and what it feels like, you can help your doctor help you identify fibromyalgia and access treatment that may greatly improve your quality of life.
Fibromyalgia is not the same thing as muscles aches (myalgia), joint pain (arthralgia), or even nerve pain (neuralgia). Fibromyalgia causes chronic, widespread pain that can range in severity from mild to incapacitating. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body, as well as above and below the waist.
The misinterpreted pain signals can provoke different responses in different people. In some, the pain can move in waves through the body or trigger abnormal sensations such as tingling, burning, or itching, especially in the arms (referred to as paresthesia). Even a stimulus that doesn’t typically provoke pain, such as touch or temperature, can oftentimes result in a painful or burning sensation (referred to as allodynia).
While fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread chronic pain, the pain can often be localized around the elbows, shoulders, knees, neck, hips, chest, lower back, and back of the head. We refer to these as tender points. The pain in these areas may not be felt deeply but rather exist just below the surface of the skin.
Fibromyalgia pain may alternately be described as sharp, diffuse, severe, throbbing, or stabbing. While some people will have fairly consistent levels of fibromyalgia symptoms, others may experience periods of low activity (remission) or the sudden intensification of symptoms (flares). Flares and severe pain episodes are often accompanied by heart palpitations.
You do not have to have all of the symptoms to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Muscle and Joint
Fibromyalgia isn’t a joint disease like arthritis, but it can cause joint-related symptoms. Most, and possibly all, fibromyalgia cases involve symptoms of the soft tissues, including the muscles and connective tissues (such as the tendons, ligaments, and fascia).
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