What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia (fye-bro-mye-AL-ja) is a disorder that causes aches and pain all over the body. People with fibromyalgia also have “tender points” throughout their bodies. Tender points are specific places on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs that hurt when pressure is put on them.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
In addition to pain, people with fibromyalgia could also have:
- Cognitive and memory problems (sometimes called “fibro fog”)
- Trouble sleeping
- Morning stiffness
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Painful menstrual periods
- Numbness or tingling of hands and feet
- Restless legs syndrome
- Temperature sensitivity
- Sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights
How common is fibromyalgia? Who is mainly affected?
Fibromyalgia affects as many as 5 million Americans ages 18 and older. Most people with fibromyalgia are women (about 80 – 90 percent). However, men and children also can have the disorder. Most people are diagnosed during middle age.
Fibromyalgia can occur by itself, but people with certain other diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other types of arthritis, may be more likely to have it. Individuals who have a close relative with fibromyalgia are more likely to develop it themselves.
What causes fibromyalgia?
The causes of fibromyalgia are not known. Researchers think a number of factors might be involved. Fibromyalgia can occur on its own, but has also been linked to:
- Having a family history of fibromyalgia
- Being exposed to stressful or traumatic events, such as
- Car accidents
- Injuries to the body caused by performing the same action over and over again (called “repetitive” injuries)
- Infections or illnesses
- Being sent to war
How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?
People with fibromyalgia often see many doctors before being diagnosed. One reason for this may be that pain and fatige, the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, also are symptoms of many other conditions. Therefore, doctors often must rule out other possible causes of these symptoms before diagnosing fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia cannot be found by a lab test.
A doctor who knows about fibromyalgia, however, can make a diagnosis based upon two criteria:
- A history of widespread pain lasting more than 3 months. Pain must be present in both the right and left sides of the body as well as above and below the waist.
- Presence of tender points. The body has 18 sites that are possible tender points. For fibromyalgia diagnosis a person must have 11 or more tender points. For a point to be “tender,” the patient must feel pain when pressure is put on the site. People who have fibromyalgia may feel pain at other sites, too, but those 18 sites on the body are used for diagnosis.
Your doctor may try to rule out other causes of your pain and fatigue. Testing for some of these things may make sense to you. For instance, you may find it reasonable that your doctor wants to rule out rheumatoid arthritis, since that disease also causes pain. Testing for other conditions — such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, or sleep apnea — may make less sense to you. But fibromyalgia can mimic or even overlap many other conditions. Talk with your doctor. He or she can help you understand what each test is for and how each test is part of making a final diagnosis.