Is fibromyalgia real? This is a question that many people with fibromyalgia, and their loved ones, ask. Many people feel like they are not believed when they say they have this condition.
So why do so many people seem to doubt its legitimacy?
In this post, we'll explore some of the reasons behind this skepticism and explain why fibromyalgia is a real, serious condition.
We'll also offer some tips for coping with fibromyalgia and getting the support you need.
This blog is supported by its readers. This post contains Amazon affiliate links, and I may receive a commission if you click at no extra cost. Affiliate Disclosure
The short answer is yes: fibromyalgia is real.
Fibromyalgia is not imaginary; it is a recognized medical condition.
The American Medical Association has recognized fibromyalgia since 1987, and in 1990 the American College of Rheumatology published the first criteria for fibromyalgia syndrome.
Unfortunately, some medical professionals still regard people with fibromyalgia as nothing more than ‘extremely worried well people’. But, slowly, that dismissive view is changing.
Fibromyalgia involves the experience of widespread pain in the muscles, joints, and tissues, along with symptoms of sleep disturbances, memory problems, chronic fatigue, and issues related to mood.
People with fibromyalgia experience painful sensations amplified in the brain, resulting in severe chronic pain, even from a light touch.
Fibromyalgia symptoms tend to vary in severity from day to day. Sufferers might express having good days and bad days. Sometimes they feel their pain or fatigue is low but might suffer from Fibro Fog.
On other days they are in so much pain and fatigue they find walking, sleeping, or even talking is difficult.
One of the biggest challenges for people with fibromyalgia syndrome is explaining it to people who don't understand. Fibromyalgia is an invisible disability, and because of this, it can be challenging for people who do not have it themselves to understand and recognize that it is an actual condition.
Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose, and it often takes years to get an accurate diagnosis due to the need to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.
With the help of a careful history and specialized physical examination, someone can be confidently given a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
If you believe you have fibromyalgia, make sure you see a doctor for specified physical examinations. If you pass the criteria for fibromyalgia, then you have the disease.
WHAT CAUSES FIBROMYALGIA?
Asking what causes fibromyalgia syndrome can be tricky, depending on whom you ask.
It appears that fibromyalgia often develops after a person has experienced an injury or trauma to the central nervous system. The trauma might be physical or emotional trauma, surgery or viral infection, hormonal changes, or prolonged stress.
Fibromyalgia also may be associated with changes in muscle metabolism, such as decreased blood flow, causing fatigue and decreased strength.
Many doctors think that there isn’t a single cause of fibromyalgia. However, researchers believe it most likely involves a variety of reasons that came together in the development of the syndrome.
There doesn't have to be a dramatic shift from normal health to having fibromyalgia, but instead, the symptoms can develop gradually with no identifiable event causing the syndrome.
It's not completely clear why but women have a greater chance of developing fibromyalgia when compared to men.
SYMPTOMS OF FIBROMYALGIA
Fibromyalgia is not just about muscle pain. People with fibromyalgia also have a high incidence of irritable bowel syndrome, TMJ disorder (temporomandibular joint disorders), tension headaches, migraines, anxiety, and depression. However, it's unnecessary to have every symptom listed to have fibromyalgia.
Some common symptoms of fibromyalgia include the following:
CHRONIC MUSCLES PAIN
Chronic muscle pain, including muscle tightness and muscle spasms, is the most characteristic symptom seen in almost everyone with fibromyalgia. Muscle pain usually causes the individual to seek medical attention in the first place.
Fibromyalgia pain appears in nearly all body areas. It is often described as throbbing, aching, or dull pain, although it can also consist of intensely sharp pains.
The pain is usually felt in the muscles and soft tissues of the body and will come and go in an irregular pattern. However, some people have pain throughout their entire body.
People with fibromyalgia often have specific points, usually near joints, that are incredibly tender and painful to the touch, particularly when poked with fingers. This pain isn't from the joints themselves but is in the soft tissue surrounding the joints, including the tendons and ligaments.
The tender points are usually near the skin’s surface. They are also not randomly occurring tender points but are in specific places on the body. Pressure on these tender points can result in extreme pain.
Fatigue in fibromyalgia presents as moderate or severe and is the second most common fibromyalgia symptom after pain. The fatigue tends to linger and be unassociated with the quantity of rest or sleep.
Some with fibromyalgia feel that the fatigue reminds them of the type of fatigue experienced with the flu. Other people compare it to the fatigue experienced when working long hours without enough sleep.
Fibromyalgia fatigue is commonly worse in the morning and occurs after a minimum activity, such as housecleaning or shopping for groceries.
People with fibromyalgia often feel too tired to exercise or socialize. They tend to be too tired to start on a project, even something they otherwise would look forward to. They are often too tired to sustain adequate productivity at work.
People with fibromyalgia struggle to get adequate quality and quantity of sleep.
They often feel just as tired upon waking up in the morning as when they went to bed. There is often difficulty getting to sleep and waking during the night, easily disturbed by light, noise, pain, and discomfort.
Those with fibromyalgia may feel as though they had an unrefreshing sleep in the morning and may feel exhausted. The lack of sleep contributes to the chronic fatigue that people living with fibromyalgia often experience.
For people with fibromyalgia, mornings can bring muscle stiffness upon waking. The stiffness is felt in the arms, legs, and back, creating a feeling that they need to stretch and move their muscles before going about their regular daily activities.
The stiffness may last up to twenty minutes after getting out of bed in the morning or staying in one position for a long time. However, people with severe fibromyalgia feel stiff all the time, and no amount of relaxation or stretching appears to relieve the muscle stiffness.
The muscle stiffness experienced with fibromyalgia differs from that many people feel after a restless night of sleep. Instead, it is stiffness that is painful and challenging to rid of.
Fibromyalgia problems with memory, concentration, and the performance of basic mental tasks are well known as Fibro Fog. Fibro Fog can significantly affect productivity at work and keeping an organized home.
Jobs take longer to accomplish, and memory difficulties make it challenging to memorize the various steps of a given task given to the individual. In addition, poor concentration can be profound, so the individual finds it difficult to accomplish anything.
People with fibromyalgia often exhibit depressive symptoms consistent with depression.
Researchers aren’t sure whether the stress from constant fatigue and ongoing pain causes the depressive symptoms seen in fibromyalgia.
However, it is also possible that fibromyalgia pain results in less activity and increased social withdrawal, leading to symptoms of depression.
Many people with fibromyalgia are prone to migraine or tension headaches.
These migraines and headaches are often related to chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, and back of those with fibromyalgia.
Although headaches are often associated with fibromyalgia, for any chronic headache, it's always advisable for a physician to check that the headaches are solely related to fibromyalgia and not to some other condition.
IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME
People with fibromyalgia often report nausea, bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation. Some have constipation alternating with diarrhea, a typical symptom of irritable bowel syndrome. These IBS symptoms are experienced by up to 70 percent of people with fibromyalgia.
FACIAL & JAW PAIN
Pain and tenderness in the facial muscles and temporomandibular joints can occur in people with fibromyalgia. Some patients will meet the criteria for having a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) along with the criteria for fibromyalgia.
Those with fibromyalgia will complain of oversensitivity to certain odors, bright lights, loud noises, cold air, certain foods, or medications. For example, they may be intolerant to another’s perfume or find themselves only comfortable in a warm, dark, and quiet place.
This oversensitivity can significantly affect one's ability to participate in many areas of normal daily activities.
Fibromyalgia patients often find themselves with an increase in urinary frequency and urgency. They may feel like they have a bladder infection when the standard tests used to diagnose bladder infections are negative. As a result, they may have difficulty getting to the restroom in time, leading to urinary urge incontinence.
Unfortunately, urinary urge incontinence medications often worsen constipation, so these medications aren't usually recommended for people with fibromyalgia with irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
PAINFUL MENSTRUAL CRAMPS
Women with fibromyalgia who are also within childbearing age often complain of severe menstrual cramps and abdominal and lower back pain.
DECREASED TOLERANCE FOR EXERCISE
People living with fibromyalgia often don't tolerate high-impact exercise; many people report an increase in painful muscles following training.
RESTLESS LEGS SYNDROME
People with fibromyalgia often feel symptoms of restless leg syndrome, which may worsen at nighttime or when the patient is trying to sleep. In addition, restless leg syndrome can exacerbate the insomnia symptoms typical in those with fibromyalgia.
FACTORS THAT AFFECT SYMPTOMS
Fibromyalgia symptoms tend to fluctuate according to various internal and external conditions.
Fibromyalgia symptoms are different throughout the day. However, symptoms are more severe on getting out of bed in the morning, late afternoon, and evening.
Symptoms flare up under conditions of increased fatigue and stress/tension.
Symptoms can worsen with inactivity, so regular movement and low-impact exercise are essential.
Colder weather worsens the pain.
Overexertion tends to make the symptoms worse.
Hormonal changes affect symptoms.
Many female fibromyalgia sufferers feel worsened symptoms during premenstrual and menopause.
Emotional factors such as anxiety and depression exacerbate the pain experienced by those with fibromyalgia.
There's no known cure for fibromyalgia, although various medications can help make the symptoms more bearable. Alternative therapies for fibromyalgia relief include reducing stress, relaxation, short bursts of exercise, diet changes, nutritional supplements, and many more.