Fibromyalgia is a condition that affects the soft tissues in the body, leading the widespread chronic pain, reduced physical function, and cognitive dysfunction. It was initially believed to be a type of rheumatism, which is the inflammation of and presence of pain in the joints, muscles, and fibrous tissue of the body. It was also believed by many professionals to be a psychological condition until the early 1990s, but is now recognised as a physical illness.
Unfortunately, there is no lab test that can confirm a person has fibromyalgia. However, doctors may run blood tests anyway, as this will allow them to rule out conditions that have similar symptoms.
The doctor will also conduct a physical exam to confirm if fibromyalgia is in fact the issue at hand. This involves the examination of 18 pressure points to test their tenderness. These points are located all over the body, concentrated around the neck, collar bone, upper back, elbows, hips, and knees. If 11 of these 18 points are painful when pressed firmly, it suggests that fibromyalgia may be the cause. The pain must also be present for a minimum of three months.
The primary symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain in 11 points for at least three months. The type of pain reported by people with fibromyalgia is a constant, dull pain, that is very tender to the touch.
Fibromyalgia can make it very difficult for people to sleep due to the pain, and many patients also report related sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. This means that fatigue is very commonly associated with fibromyalgia. Possibly related to this are the attentive difficulties associated with fibromyalgia, which makes it difficult for people to concentrate on tasks for a significant amount of time. Memory loss and difficulty making decisions are also common.
The condition is often, although not always, associated with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, painful bladder, joint pain, and headaches.
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not known, but there are several risk factors that could trigger the condition. Women are far more likely than men to experience the condition, and it also appears to run in families, suggesting that genetics may play a factor. Certain infections also appear to be able to trigger the condition, as do physical or emotional trauma.
While we cannot point to a single cause as the reasons behind fibromyalgia, it is now believed to be more neurological than physical in nature, which is why conditions that affect the brain can trigger it. Fibromyalgia appears to change the way out nervous system sends and receives pain signals, which can make it difficult to treat.
As we are still learning about this condition, there is no cure for the underlying cause of the pain. This means that treatment involves treating the individual symptoms of the pain experienced, and can range from pain medication and physiotherapy, to counselling and anti-depressants. Even though there is no cure, these treatments will usually improve the quality of life for individuals suffering from fibromyalgia.