Fibromyalgia Explianed

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a medical condition characterised by chronic widespread pain and a heightened pain response to pressure. Other symptoms include feeling tired to a degree that normal activities are affected, sleep problems, and troubles with memory. Some people also report restless legs syndrome, bowel or bladder problems, numbness and tingling, and sensitivity to noise, lights or temperature. Fibromyalgia is frequently associated with depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Other types of chronic pain are also frequently present. Even though fibromyalgia is frequently referred to as an arthritis-related condition, it does not cause joint damage or inflammation, as arthritis does. Neither does fibromyalgia cause damage to muscle and other tissues. However, it is similar to arthritis because it causes severe pain and tiredness, and can undermine the patient's ability to go about daily activities. Fibromyalgia is seen as a rheumatic condition.

Stiffness

Fibromyalgia can make you feel stiff. The stiffness may be most severe when you have been in the same position for a long period of time, such as when you first wake up in the morning.

Fibromyalgia can also cause your muscles to spasm, which is when they contract (squeeze) tightly and painfully. This can affect your sleep (see below).

Fatigue

Fatigue (extreme tiredness) as a result of fibromyalgia can range from a mild, tired feeling to the exhaustion often experienced during a flu-like illness. Sometimes, severe fatigue may come on very suddenly and can drain you of all your energy. If this occurs, you may feel too tired to do anything at all.

Poor quality sleep

Fibromyalgia can affect your sleep. You may find you often wake up tired even when you have had plenty of sleep. This is because fibromyalgia can sometimes prevent you from sleeping deeply enough to refresh you properly. You may hear this described as ‘non-restorative sleep’.

Cognitive problems ('fibro-fog')

Cognitive problems are problems with mental processes, such as thinking and learning. If you have fibromyalgia, you may have:

  • trouble remembering and learning new things

  • problems with attention and concentration

  • slowed or confused speech

Headaches

If you have pain and stiffness in your neck and shoulders from fibromyalgia, you may also have frequent headaches. These can vary from being mild headaches to severe migraines, which may also involve other symptoms, such as nausea (feeling sick).

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

If you have fibromyalgia, you may develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well. IBS is a common digestive condition that causes pain and bloating in your stomach. It can also cause constipation (when you are unable to empty your bowels) and diarrhoea (passing loose stools).

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of fibromyalgia can include:

  • not being able to regulate your body temperature (feeling too hot or too cold)

  • restless legs syndrome (unpleasant sensations in your legs and feeling like you need to move your legs to get some relief)

  • tingling, numbness, prickling, or burning sensations in your hands and feet (paresthesia)

  • tinnitus (the perception of a noise in one or both ears that comes from inside your body)

  • unusually painful periods (in women)

  • anxiety

  • depression (see below)

Depression

It is possible for fibromyalgia to lead to depression. This is because the condition can be difficult to deal with, and low levels of certain hormones, such as serotonin, can make you prone to developing depression.

Depression can cause many symptoms, including:

  • constantly feeling low

  • a lack of interest in the things that you usually enjoy

  • feeling tearful

If you think that you may be depressed, it is important to get help from your GP, or your fibromyalgia healthcare professional.

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Causes of fibromyalgia

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. Research into people with fibromyalgia has identified a number of changes in the way that their body functions. However, what causes these changes in the first place, and how exactly these cause fibromyalgia, is still not clear.

Te changes that have been noticed in people with fibromyalgia include:

  • disturbed pain messages

  • low levels of hormones

  • sleep problems

These are explained in more detail below.

Disturbed pain messages

One of the most likely causes of fibromyalgia is a problem with the way that pain messages are carried and received in your body.

The central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) transmits information all over your body through a network of specialised cells. In people with fibromyalgia, the way that pain messages are processed is disturbed. This may explain why fibromyalgia results in constant feelings of pain and extreme sensitivity to pain.

Low levels of hormones

People with fibromyalgia have been found to have lower-than-normal levels of the hormones serotonin, noradrenaline (also known as norepinephrine) and dopamine.

Low levels of these hormones may be a key factor in the cause of fibromyalgia, as they each control many of the processes in the body. For example:

  • serotonin - this helps to regulate your moods, your appetite, and the way that you sleep

  • noradrenaline - this contributes to your response in stressful situations

  • dopamine - this helps to control your mood and behaviour, and the way that you learn

Sleep problems

It is possible that disturbed sleep patterns may be a cause of fibromyalgia, rather than just a symptom. Fibromyalgia can prevent you from sleeping deeply and cause fatigue (extreme tiredness). People with fibromyalgia who sleep badly also seem to feel more pain. This may suggest that the sleep problems in some way contribute to the other symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Risk factors

There may be some risk factors that can either make fibromyalgia more likely, or act as a trigger for the condition. These include:

  • physical trauma (damage to the body’s tissues)

  • psychological trauma (an incident that causes emotional damage, such as the death of a loved one)

  • a viral infection (such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV and AIDS)

  • being depressed

Genetics

There may be a genetic link to fibromyalgia, with some people being more likely than others to develop the condition due to their genes (the units of genetic material inherited from their parents). If this is the case, a genetic predisposition (tendency) could explain why some people develop fibromyalgia after some sort of trigger.