What is fibromyalgia? Symptoms to look out for and how you can treat it
Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a chronic condition that effects the bones and muscles, causing widespread pain, sensitivity to pain, muscle stiffness and fatigue.
According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, three to six per cent of the world’s population has fibromyalgia syndrome, making it one of the most common chronic pain disorders in the world. It is estimated that around 800,000 people in the UK may suffer from it.
In past, other terms were used to describe the condition, says Arthritis Research UK , including muscular rheumatism and fibrositis. The condition may also have been misdiagnosed as degenerative joint disease
Fibromyalgia is more prevalent in women than in men. Acccording to the National Fibromyalgia Association , 75-90% of people with the syndrome are women.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of fibromyalgia are widespread pain throughout the body. Other symptoms of the condition include:
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Muscle stiffness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Problems with mental processes (known as ‘fibro-fog’) – such as problems with memory and concentration
- Irritable bowel syndrome, which can cause stomach pain and bloating
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Restless legs syndrome
According to Healthline.com , men and women experience fibromyalgia pain differently. Both report an intense level of pain at some points, but men tend to report lower pain intensity than women. Women experience more “all-over hurting” and longer pain duration. Fibromyalgia pain is often stronger in women because oestrogen decreases pain tolerance.
Symptoms can appear at any time in your life but are most commonly reported at around 45 years of age.
What are the causes?
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown but it is thought there are a number of factors in play, with a mix of physical, neurological and psychological factors. The following are among the factors that are thought to contribute to the condition:
Changes in hormone levels are thought to play a part in the development of the disease and research has found that people with fibromyalgia have abnormally low levels of the hormones serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine.
According to the NHS levels of these hormones may be a key factor in the cause of fibromyalgia as they’re important in regulating things such as:
- your response to stressful situations
These hormones also play a role in processing pain messages sent by the nerves. Increasing the hormone levels with medication can disrupt these signals.
Some researchers have also suggested that changes in the levels of some other hormones, such as cortisol (released when the body is under stress), may contribute to fibromyalgia.
It is not proven that genetics play a part in your susceptibility to the disease, but it does seem to run in families. The possibility that it is linked to genetics may explain why some people develop the condition after a some kid of trigger. Your parents may also pass on genes that make you more sensitive to pain
A stressful event
It is thought that the condition can be triggered by an event that might cause you stress, wither physically, emotionally or both, such as a car accident, an operation or the loss of a loved one.
People with fibromyalgia often report that their symptoms started after an illness or accident, or following a period of emotional stress and anxiety.
In an experiment where healthy volunteers were woken repeatedly during a period of deep sleep, a number of them developed the typical signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia and it is possible that disturbed sleep patterns may be a cause of fibromyalgia, rather than just a symptom.
Abnormal pain messages
One of the main theories is that people with fibromyalgia have developed changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body. This could be due to changes to chemicals in the nervous system.
Changes in the way the nervous system works may explain why fibromyalgia results in constant feelings of, and extreme sensitivity to, pain.
How can I treat fibromyalgia?
There is currently no known cure for fibromyalgia but there are several ways that you can ease your symptoms.
The condition has many different symptoms, which means it is impossible to address them al with one single treatment.
Often the condition is treated with medication and lifestyle changes.
Your doctor may suggest you take paracetamol or stronger painkillers to help manage your pain, but you have to be aware that all painkillers come with side effects. Opioids, such as codeine and dihydrocodeine should be used sparingly because of the risk of long-term side-effects and because they may cause dependence and can be difficult to stop.
Muscle relaxants such as diazepam may help can ease muscle stiffness or spasms and help loosen painful knots.
Some people find that antidepressants can help relieve the pain of fibromyalgia as the boost the levels of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that carry messages to and from the brain.
Low levels of neurotransmitters may be a factor in fibromyalgia, according to the NHS , and it’s believed that increasing their levels may ease the widespread pain associated with the condition.
Anticonvulsant or anti-seizure medicine can be effective for those with fibromyalgia to help control muscle spasms and ease pain.
The most commonly used anticonvulsants for fibromyalgia are pregabalin and gabapentin. These are normally used to treat epilepsy, but they can improve the pain associated with fibromyalgia in some people.
As sleep disturbance is a factor in triggering fibromyalgia, your doctor may suggest you take an over the counter remedy to help you sleep, or they may prescribe yousomething stronger on a short-term basis.
Physical therapies for fibromyalgia
Your doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist.
Physiotherapy can help you to improve your posture, physical function and quality of life, and become more active. Physiotherapists can also advise on relaxation techniques.
Occupational therapy can help you to manage everyday activities without increasing your pain. Your therapist may suggest specific approaches, changing the way you work or using labour-saving gadgets. If you’re struggling at work your therapist can recommend adjustments that will help.
Exercise is also considered to be good for those suffering with fibromyalgia as it helps improve blood flow to muscles, relieves stress and improves quality of sleep.
Exercising also helps to release endorphins which are your body’s ‘feel good’ chemicals. There is growing evidence that people with fibromyalgia have reduced levels of serotonin.
Some sufferers may benefit from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT, which can change the way you think about your problems and help you deal with your fibromyalgia in a better way.
Counselling or support groups can also help you deal with issues surrounding the condition, and it can help to talk to others who have it. Relaxation techniques are also often suggested to help people cope with the symptoms.
The singer/songwriter announced in 2017 that she was suffering from the condition. She revealed she suffers from Fibromyalgia in a Netflix documentary. In the one-off special, ‘Gaga:Five Foot Two’, the Bad Romance chart-topper opened up about living with the chronic pain condition that causes sufferers fatigue and extreme pain.
The star said she hoped by sharing her experience she would could raise awareness of the condition.
In her up and close and personal Netflix documentary, Gaga can be seen being worked on by doctors during a show.
Earlier this year the star was forced to cancel the last 10 shows of her Joanne World Tour after suffering from severe pain. She told fans: “I’m so devastated I don’t how to describe it. All I know is that if I don’t do this, I am not standing by the words or meaning of my music.
“My medical team is supporting the decision for me to recover at home.”
The Shawshank Redemption actor was diagnosed with fibromyalgia after a car crash in 2008.
In a 2012 interview with Esquire Magazine Freeman said: “There is a point to changes like these. I have to move on to other things, to other conceptions of myself. I play golf. I still work. And I can be pretty happy just walking the land.”
He told the magazine that the pain is so excruciating he can’t pilot jets, sail, or ride horses for as long as he once used to.
The Irish singer/songwriter spoke out about her struggle with fibromyalgia in 2003.
The Nothing Compares 2U star was forced to take a two-year break from the limelight in order to properly deal with her symptoms and get treatment.