Few diseases bring as much generalized pain, fatigue and frustration as fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, a good deal of that discomfort goes untreated for longer than it should, mainly because fibromyalgia is still a controversial and confusing disorder. Not only does it mimic a variety of other illnesses, but symptoms can easily be overlooked – or go unreported.
Learning to recognize the differences between fibromyalgia and other chronic pain and fatigue disorders is the first step to relief. If you’ve been living with aching pain and exhaustion for no clear reason, don’t ignore the issue. Take control of your health by looking deeper into your symptoms, so you can start to improve your quality of life right away with the right treatment plan.
Fibromyalgia can interrupt your life in a number of ways, and it’s impossible to predict how exactly it will affect each person. In fact, it’s difficult to know how your symptoms will change from day to day. However, there are some very common types of discomfort associated with fibromyalgia. Many sufferers will experience the following symptoms.
1. Muscle Aches
Often the very first symptoms of fibromyalgia are in the muscles. Many people complain of a deep, aching muscle pain that cannot be massaged or stretched out. It can feel like you’ve pulled a muscle, but it could also be a burning or aching sensation. Muscle aches can act up on some days more than others.
About half of all fibro sufferers also suffer from chronic headaches or migraines. Researchers aren’t sure about the precise connection between headache pain and fibro pain, but a chemical imbalance in the brain may be to blame. In any case, headaches can come on suddenly, and may be triggered by other muscle pain.
3. Tender Points
Experts have located 18 specific tender points on the body that are triggered by fibromyalgia. These are found at the back of the head, between the shoulders, front of the neck, top of the chest, elbows, tops of the hips, and inside of the knees. You may have pain in just a few of these spots, or you could feel tenderness in many different places.
Chronic, daily fatigue is incredibly common – and very debilitating – for fibromyalgia sufferers. The muscle pain and joint stiffness can make it difficult to sleep, and conditions like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea have been known to occur alongside fibromyalgia. Of course, a sleepless night makes for a lethargic day, and a lack of sleep can even make you more sensitive to pain.
5. Sleep Disturbances
Insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, and frequent waking during the night are common fibro side effects. Not surprisingly, this fibromyalgia insomnia feeds the fatigue that already interferes with your day, and can further impair your concentration and memory.
6. ‘Brain Fog’
Fibromyalgia patients may also find that certain physical symptoms can lead to other pain or even mental distress. For instance, physical pain can have a big effect on your ability to think clearly and solve problems – a cognitive problem commonly known as “fibro fog.”
Anxiety, morning stiffness, and digestive distress (often in the form of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS) are other fairly common complaints among fibro sufferers.
Several conditions share some key symptoms with fibromyalgia, particularly extreme fatigue, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and sleep disturbances. Since fibromyalgia can masquerade as other illnesses, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and hypothyroidism, health professionals have developed some guidelines for diagnosis.
Although every patient is a bit different, there are a few very common characteristics of the disease that usually need to be present in order to receive a fibromyalgia diagnosis, including:
7. Symmetrical Pain
Fibromyalgia typically brings pain on both sides of the body, as well as both the upper and lower parts. The pain does not have to be constant in any section of extremity, but it must occur over different areas of the body in order to be classified as fibromyalgia pain.
8. Multiple Tender Points
Not every fibro sufferer will experience pain and tenderness in all the 18 possible points, but in most cases, multiple tender points are present and can be identified by applying pressure to those spots.
9. Pain That Lasts for Three Months or More
Many conditions can bring on lasting pain, but when the pain goes on for longer than three months and cannot be explained by any specific event or illness, fibromyalgia may be to blame.
In some cases, fibromyalgia occurs alongside another illness, which can make a diagnosis especially complicated. And while tests become more sophisticated, there is still no concrete method of evaluation to determine whether or not fibromyalgia is at play.
If you suspect that your muscle pain and chronic fatigue may be tied to fibromyalgia, bring up your concerns with your doctor. Remember that second opinions are often very useful – you can ask your family doctor to refer you to a rheumatologist or neurologist to investigate your case more deeply, and help rule out neurological or arthritic disease.
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