10 Things You Should Know About Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic arthritis-related syndrome. A syndrome is a collection of symptoms. If you have been diagnosed or have signs and symptoms pointing to fibromyalgia, there are 10 basic facts you should know about the condition.

Woman waking up suffering from a back ache
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It's Primarily Characterized by Widespread Muscle Pain and Tenderness

Fibromyalgia does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints, muscles, or other tissues. Therefore, it is not a joint disease, but it is arthritis-related. In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology established criteria to classify fibromyalgia for research studies:

  • A history of widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body (e.g., above the waist on both sides of the body; below the waist on both sides of the body) for three months or more.
  • Pain at 11 of 18 tender point sites

It Can Be a Primary or Secondary Condition

Fibromyalgia can occur as a primary syndrome characterized by muscular pain or as a secondary syndrome to other rheumatic diseases. It is possible to have fibromyalgia syndrome and another rheumatic disease.

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or ankylosing spondylitis are at increased risk of also developing fibromyalgia syndrome. Those patients may wonder if they have symptoms that are common to two conditions (i.e., overlapping symptoms) or if they actually have two distinct conditions.

It Often Goes Undiagnosed

Fibromyalgia is often misunderstood and symptoms are often unrecognized, causing the syndrome to remain undiagnosed for months or years.

Fibromyalgia symptoms are often confused with symptoms typically linked to another condition. Fibromyalgia symptoms can mimic or overlap symptoms associated with other rheumatic diseases. According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, it takes about 5 years on average to get an accurate diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

90% of Patients Suffer From Severe Fatigue or a Sleep Disorder

Fatigue and sleep problems are major characteristics associated with fibromyalgia. Therefore, problems which develop because of poor sleep also referred to as non-restorative sleep, are problematic as well (i.e., cognitive problems, memory lapses, lack of energy).

There Are Additional Symptoms

Fibromyalgia is associated with additional symptoms that seem distinct themselves but are actually included in fibromyalgia syndrome.

Other than muscular pain, fatigue, and tenderness, fibromyalgia patients also may experience:

There Are Psychological Aspects to the Syndrome

In a study of 307 patients evaluated over an 11-year period (reported at an American College of Rheumatology meeting by Yunus and colleagues), one-third of patients had severe physical as well as severe psychological issues. One-third had mild psychological and moderate physical issues. Another third had moderate psychological symptoms with mild physical symptoms.

Symptoms Are Different for Different People

Since there is so much variability in fibromyalgia, the syndrome does not manifest itself identically in all patients.

Since not all fibromyalgia patients experience the same symptoms, there may be subtypes of fibromyalgia that may be discovered later and would influence treatment choices. Until the cause of fibromyalgia is determined, the variability of symptoms will remain part of the puzzle.

There Is No Definitive Diagnostic Test

Diagnosis of fibromyalgia focuses on symptoms and tender points but there is no definitive diagnostic test for fibromyalgia, such as a blood test or x-ray.

Diagnosis of fibromyalgia is solely based on symptoms that are presented and found during a physical examination. If diagnostic tests are ordered, it is to rule out other conditions or find out more about other symptoms.

Medication and Non-Medication Treatments Are Used

Medications are used to treat pain, improve sleep, and manage depression and anxiety. Your physician will determine what to prescribe based on the symptoms presented. Alternative treatments that focus on pain relief and stress relief also benefit many fibromyalgia patients.

Women Are More Likely to Have Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia affects more women than men. The prevalence of fibromyalgia is between 2 and 4% of the population.

Though the statistics reveal the prevalence of fibromyalgia, statistics do not reveal how many people live well with fibromyalgia and have successfully managed the syndrome to the degree of maintaining a good quality of life. It's important to get a proper diagnosis and to follow a treatment regimen which affords you a good quality of life despite your diagnosis.

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Article Sources
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  • Fibromyalgia Q & A. National Institutes of Health (NIAMS). July 2014.
  • Fibromyalgia. American College of Rheumatology. May 2015.
  • Fibromyalgia. Chapter 52. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. Elsevier. Ninth Edition.