Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, poor sleep, and mood disorders. Research indicates that fibromyalgia amplifies painful and nonpainful signals by affecting the way your brain and spinal cord process signals.
Fibromyalgia occurs when pain terminals become sensitized to repetitive stimulation and inflammation. Changes take place at the level of the pain receptors, at the spinal cord and brain, resulting in hyper-reactivity of the central nervous system, referred to as central sensitization. This results in an overreaction to painful and non-painful signals.
Fibromyalgia symptoms can be caused by physical trauma, surgery, infection, or psychological stress.
In some cases, symptoms can gradually increase over time with no single triggering event. Those symptoms include:
- Pervasive pain
- Fatigue and insomnia
- Cognitive difficulties
The pre-existing risk factors of fibromyalgia are not fully understood, but research indicates that possible contributors may include:
- Age– while fibromyalgia can affect any age group, it is most commonly diagnosed during middle age and typically appears in older adults
- Stressful or traumatic event, such as car accidents
- Certain viral infections, which can cause an elevated risk of fibromyalgia
- Repetitive stress- repeated motions that are associated with many types of joint pain can also increase your risk of fibromyalgia
- Family history- Fibromyalgia appears to have a hereditary element and can also be contributed to by other genetically-linked issues such as rheumatoid arthritis
If not addressed, fibromyalgia symptoms can continue to worsen, causing debilitating pain, headaches, and fatigue. Worsening chronic pain can contribute to deepening of depression and other mood disorders.
Diagnosis begins with a detailed review of the patient’s symptoms as well as their family and medical history. A physical examination is performed. Additional blood work and imaging tests may be utilized to rule out other potential causes.
Fibromyalgia may also be concurrent with other conditions such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Chronic fatigue
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Migraine and other types of headaches
- Interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
Although there is no official “cure” for fibromyalgia, a variety of treatments can help control symptoms:
- Aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises
- Physical therapy
- Stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, and massage
- Good sleep habits to improve the quality of sleep and other lifestyle interventions
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Wholesome diet
- Certain medications