Fibromyalgia is a chronic health problem that causes widespread pain. Medical professionals remain somewhat mystified by the origins of the condition, though it is speculated that the symptoms are at least in part caused by changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain signals.
It’s important to note that fibromyalgia is typically a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that doctors will first want to rule out other diseases that may present in a similar way (such as arthritis and other inflammatory or autoimmune problems). However, if you’ve already been through a wide range of tests and are still experiencing confusing symptoms, here are eight signs that your underlying problem might be fibromyalgia.
1. Specific Tender Points
As indicated above, pervasive pain is associated with fibromyalgia. That being said, there are about 18 common tender points in fibromyalgia sufferers, and anyone with 11 or more is likely to have the condition. These sensitive areas will cause intense pain in a small area when pressure is applied, and typically include spots on the hips, buttocks, knees, chest, elbows, neck and back. A rheumatologist will know where these tender points are and will be able to test your response.
2. Muscle Spams
If you have fibromyalgia, you’ll most likely have knotted muscles and painful spasms as well as the aforementioned tender points. Anyone who massages you may comment on the tightness of your muscles, and the pain in places like your shoulders and arms may make it excruciating to do everyday tasks like typing or carrying groceries.
Next to pain, fatigue is probably the most common symptom of fibromyalgia. This fatigue is more than just the tiredness associated with a stressful event or a busy week—it is moderate to severe in character, and generally persists regardless of activity level. Consequently, you may find it hard to do all the things you want to, and you may be frustrated by the fact that your tiredness is vastly out of proportion to the amount you’ve actually done in a day.
“Fibro-fog” is the name often given to the cognitive issues encountered in fibromyalgia. You might notice that it’s harder to remember facts, more difficult to learn new information, and tough to concentrate for long periods. Some people notice speech changes, too, such as stumbling over words.
Headaches are extremely common, but those described by fibromyalgia sufferers seem to originate from stiffness and tenderness in the neck and shoulders. Your headaches might appear in the form of mild but persistent tension headaches, or they may be as extreme as migraines involving nausea and visual disturbances.
If you think you’ve had a migraine for the first time (or endured a different kind of migraine), you should always visit your doctor for a neurological workup—more sinister health problems like strokes and tumors are occasionally responsible for similar symptoms.
6. Unusual Sensitivity
Fibromyalgia usually involves extreme sensitivity to pain in two different senses. Firstly, you may have hyperalgesia, which means that painful stimuli (such as injuries) hurt you more than they do the average person. Secondly, you may experience allodynia, which is characterized by pain in response to things that wouldn’t hurt the average person at all (such as light touches to the skin).
In addition, those with fibromyalgia are sometimes more sensitive to things in the environment, like strong smells or bright lights. These intense sensory experiences can even trigger an increase in other fibromyalgia symptoms (like muscle pain, mental fogginess and headaches).
7. Poor Sleep Quality
One of the major warning signs of fibromyalgia is waking up feeling like you haven’t had restful sleep. Sometimes, your sleep may be so poor that you feel more tired than you did when you went to bed. Further, you may have difficulty falling asleep and feel particularly stiff or achy when you first get up in the morning.
8. Digestive Disturbances
Finally, there is considerable overlap between fibromyalgia and digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome. You may have episodes of constipation alternating with diarrhea, and you might often feel bloated or feel painful stomach cramps after a meal.
Obtaining a Diagnosis
If most of the above symptoms sound familiar to you, talk to your doctor about fibromyalgia. While many people need to go down a long road of exploring other explanations before eventually receiving a diagnosis, there are some promising treatment options. For example, drugs that influence levels of neurotransmitters that control pain levels can be very effective.
In addition, since many fibromyalgia sufferers wonder at some point if they are merely hypochondriacs, you may find that even just knowing that there is a name for your condition helps to combat low mood and gives you hope for the future.