Fibromyalgia - What You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by: Dr Ilbey Ucar – PhD (Psychology)
Last updated date : February 22, 2023

Chapter 1:

What Is Fibromyalgia?

The young boy is holding his painful left shoulder with his right hand

Fibromyalgia is an extremely common condition that causes long-lasting pain across the body. Fibromyalgia symptoms include mental distress, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. Unfortunately, these symptoms overlap with plenty of other health conditions. This leads to Fibromyalgia often being diagnosed or misdiagnosed. A further challenge is that health expert differ in opinions of fibromyalgia. In this article, we answer all questions about fibromyalgia, what you need to know, symptoms and treatment options.

Most chronic pain issues are associated with joints and inflammation. This fact helps tell fibromyalgia symptoms apart from other chronic pain concerns. Fibromyalgia causes soft tissue pain and discomfort, muscle soreness.

As mentioned earlier, telling fibromyalgia apart from other health conditions is a challenge. That is due to an overlap of symptoms that can be linked to many other illnesses. However, doctors have come a long way from a time when fibromyalgia was questioned and sometimes brushed aside. It is now a more accepted condition, along with other pain and rheumatological disorders.

Chapter 2:

Nature of Fibromyalgia

It is a chronic condition, one that can lasts years. Fibromyalgia symptoms include sleep issues, fatigue, pain and a loss of strength. There is no structural or pathological disease which explain the symptoms. Often blood tests and other investigations that doctors do come back negative. Women are more likely to experience severe fibromyalgia symptoms. Often people are diagnosed in theirs 30s and 40s.

Chapter 3:

Symptoms to Look Out For

Whilst there is a lot of overlap between fibromyalgia symptoms and other health conditions; it does help to know what they are. Especially since early diagnosis can lead to less long term symptom burden and suffering.

Below are some fibromyalgia symptoms.

  • Aching all over – Muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, you name it.
  • Extreme fatigue that makes you feel drained
  • Low-quality sleep. – Sleep may be full of interaction and you may wake up unrested even after a long time of sleeping.
  • Stiffness in muscles after activity.
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate generally referred to as ‘fibro fog’
  • Bladder complications
  • Increased pain during menstruation
  • Tingling or numbing sensations in hands and feet
  • Being sensitive to cold or heat
  • Irritability
  • Vision problems
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Skin irritations
  • Chest issues
  • Cardiac issues

Often the severity of symptoms fluctuate with time. The pain may take over your entire body or just stick to a few areas. Similarly, what makes these conditions better or worse differ from person to person.

Chapter 4:

Fibromyalgia in Men vs Women

Fibromyalgia symptoms tend to be more severe in women. Women tend to explain more widespread pain, extreme menstruation pain, and more fatigue.

However, men are more likely to be diagnosed with this condition. Their symptoms tend to remain hidden. However, the stigma of this being a women’s illness is slowly being wiped off. With that, more men are being diagnosed. The biggest issue pertaining to the stigma is that men are considered less masculine if they can’t deal with the pain.

Chapter 5:

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Stressed young girl is holding up her painful hands to her chest

Unfortunately, as is the risk of most chronic pains, doctors can’t identify a specific cause for Fibromyalgia. However, the pain and other symptoms seem to occur due to triggers which can be stress, infection, or trauma.

The main reason behind Fibromyalgia is not muscle pain. Instead, it is the increased sensitivity of nerves that has you aching due to the smallest reason. However, there are identified factors that could be causing Fibromyalgia. Below are a few.

Genetics Involving Fibromyalgia
Firstly, it appears that fibromyalgia has the potential for intergenerational genetic transmission. Thus, having a family member with Fibromyalgia easily puts you at a higher risk.
Traumatic Events Leading To Fibromyalgia
Secondly, fibromyalgia is linked to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Social, economic, physical or emotional abuse are important factors that cause or relapse post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lack of Quality Sleep
The body not getting the rest it deserves makes any issue bad to worse. Thus, not getting enough sleep can make the pain worse.
Stress Issues
Mental health instability can affect someone as physical pain. Being under severe mental stress can affect one’s body in a long-lasting way.
Injury or an Illness
Symptoms may tend to start developing after being injured or ill. The side effects of such situations can lead to confusion and damage within the nerves. One example would be Arthritis and the body pain it creates.
Damages Caused to the Central Nerve System
Fibromyalgia is likely an issue with central pain processing, which makes nerves extra sensitive. Thus, damages that have happened to the nervous system cause this.

There are many theories behind the efforts of understanding the cause of Fibromyalgia pain. However, these are still being tested. Therefore, nothing can be concluded as yet.

Chapter 6:

Who Is at Risk?

There are many factors that determine who is at risk. In general, family, stressors, physical traumas, psychological traumas, neurological status, gender, age are suggested as important factors.

This condition tends to be common in families. In other words, in the case of one person being diagnosed, the rest of the family are at a high risk of attracting Fibromyalgia.

It can also take place due to extreme stress, and Research has proved that mental stress can show up as physical pain. The anxiety and stress you have been under put you at an elevated risk.

Injuries or illnesses you faced recently leaves room for nerve damage. Thus, it can put you at risk if left untreated.

The imbalance of brain chemicals is another reason that may put you at risk. However, this is not something that someone can help themselves with. The nervous system tends to overreact to insignificant pain signs due to imbalanced brain chemicals. This may result in severe pain.

Gender may also put one at risk in this case. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with this condition. This takes place for unclear reasons.

Age could put one at risk. In other words, the older you get, past middle age, the more at risk you are of attracting this condition.

Other diseases that are nerve-related and cause chronic pain leaves you at a higher risk.

Chapter 7:

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia

Young man holding his painful left shoulder with his right hand

With how basic the symptoms are it is easy to overlook this condition. Ironically, due to the same reason, diagnosing can be tricky. The symptoms vary and are unique. Most illnesses can cause these symptoms.

However, there are a few common symptoms that must exist in order to be diagnosed with this condition.

  • Chronic pain. Must have lasted for over three months
  • Noticeable fatigue
  • Low-quality sleep, even after getting enough of it.
  • Issues with focus and understanding

It is always easier to remember an individual’s history of illnesses or injuries and what medication they are on. This may help the doctor to determine the cause of the pain. The pain must have lasted for over three months for a suspected Fibromyalgia case.

Moreover, the doctor may conduct physical examinations. Especially if he/she suspects nerve damage due to an injury. Blood tests and other tests are done to recognize any other illnesses. There is no other recognizable cause of Fibromyalgia. Basically, this condition is diagnosed by ruling out any other possible condition that can be causing symptoms. This diagnosis may take time.

Chapter 8:

Treatment Methods

Without finding an exact cause, no condition can be cured. However, there are treatment options that are focused on reducing the symptoms. These may range in pain killers, antidepressants, muscle relaxers, drugs to help you sleep, and other physical help.

Symptoms can be very insignificant. However, medical attention is highly recommended. If these symptoms get severe, they will be hard to manage.

Below are a few treatment methods used to treat symptoms.

The only way to fight a condition without knowing its cause is to deal with the symptoms. Medication helps manage pain and improve quality of life.

This method may include pain-relieving medication to deal with persistent chronic pain. It may also include medication to help improve the quality of sleep. Patients diagnosed with this condition find it hard to get good sleep. Thus, low-quality sleep will always keep the body exhausted.

Antidepressants to deal with stressful and anxious situations. This is meant to stop the mental pain from becoming physical pain. Anti Seizure drugs are also recommended. That is to lessen the symptoms of this condition.

Some of this medicine (such as pain killers) are over-the-counter medications. It is important to stick to recommended doses without developing toxic addictions.

Engaging in Exercise
This doesn’t recommend high-impact activities that will potentially put your life at risk. Exercise in this context refers to low-impact muscle movements to strengthen yourself, build endurance, and increase mobility. Some of these activities include Yoga and walking.
Therapy for this condition does not limit to counseling. The type of therapy treatment depends on how Fibromyalgia is affecting you.

Physiotherapy is an excellent way to learn how to stay active even on hard days. Trained specialists perform these activities. They have the practice to show you exactly what to do in order to lessen your pain, relax, and improve your quality of life.

Depending on the situation of your pain, your doctor may recommend physiotherapy. In addition, you can always ask your doctor if they think it to be a good option for you.

You may also be recommended occupational therapy. This makes day-to-day activities much more accessible. It teaches how to get simple things around the house done with minimum damage or pain caused. They may also suggest aids and equipment that may make things further easier for you.

Pain clinics bring the talented hands of many professionals together. According to their advice, a victim of fibromyalgia can be on their way to pain rehabilitation.

Psychological therapy is another effective way of getting to the root cause of the pain. Chronic pain can take place due to psychological reasons. On top of that, the pain can create distress. Talking therapy helps you dig into emotions and recognize the causes of the pain. Understanding these causes makes it easier to help. It allows victims to choose a healthier way to react to distress.

The psychological method can also include relaxation techniques. The main goal is to supply emotional support and clarity to one in pain and distress.

Chapter 9:

How Do I Help Myself With Fibromyalgia?

If an individual suspecting themselves to have this condition and are in no position to visit a doctor, there are ways they can help themselves manage the symptoms.
Join a Support Group
Support groups can be a great way of creating a network with people going through the same issues. This may help each other understand their complications better. It also provides them a chance to educate themselves on how to treat these symptoms based on others’ experiences.

This can also turn out to be a way to rid the victims of their loneliness. With the stories of those getting better, those who are hopeless have something to look forward to. These support groups tend to host events to educate people and to enlarge their community.

Stay Active
Pain can push one to not wanting to get up at all. But immobility only gives way to more severe pain. By not moving muscles, they become stiff. Staying active despite your instincts plays a massive role in dealing with painful symptoms and avoiding other health issues.

This does not mean you should engage in high-end activities such as gymnastics. Taking a walk, cleaning the house, walking your dogs, a bit of yoga, and daily stretching is important. It may feel like the pain is getting worse. However, with time, the effects of exercise will reduce symptoms. These symptoms are such as fatigue, chronic pain, and insomnia. When you feel ready, increase the time and amount of exercise you do to gain strength and improve stamina.

Stick to a Recommended Diet
Below are a few diet plans that are recommended.
  • Low sugar and high energy food – Beans, oatmeal, almonds, avocado, etc. These food items boost energy and fight fatigue.
  • Gluten-free diet
  • More nuts in the diet – Nuts are generally famous to include nutrition. Thus, it is recommended for patients in need of strength.

In addition, sticking to a balanced meal and consuming enough water helps the body function. With the existing pain and fatigue, added discomfort due to less nutrition can only make things worse.

Since these patients prefer being inactive, unhealthy food may increase weight gain. This does not help. Chances are, Fibromyalgia persons with unhealthy weight face more health complications. These include issues such as diabetes or heart diseases.

Educate Yourself About This Condition
To treat something, it is important to know about it. Read, listen and talk to medical professionals to understand how this condition can be helped better. The information received will consist of all the answers necessary to symptoms and how best you can deal with them, as well as dos and do not.

Also, encourage your loved ones to learn more about this. They are easily at risk, and they can work towards consulting doctors before it gets worse.

Work on Your Concentration
If you’re facing hardships with focusing on something, take time to practice how to be better at it.
Get a Goodnight Sleep
Despite how much one wants to, Fibromyalgia makes quality sleep extremely difficult. Try making sure the bedroom is dark. Stop checking the time. Have a warm bath before bed. Do not drink caffeine or tea before bed. Make sure you do not have a full meal too close to bedtime. Listen to soothing music. Try to stop smoking.

Try these simple techniques, among other practices, that may help you sleep. At Epsychonline we have courses written by our psychologists to help people with chronic pain and fatigue. Visit our Courses page or use the search bar to find a self-help courses that uses the therapy techniques described above.

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