The first step to coping better with fibromyalgia and its symptoms is to know more about the condition. Here are a few quick facts.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that affects your physical, mental, and social health. And while symptoms may come and go, they never disappear completely. It is typically characterized by chronic widespread pain and tenderness.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia is estimated to affect 2% to 4% of the U.S. population.
Since fibromyalgia cannot be diagnosed through laboratory tests, doctors typically base the diagnosis on the patient’s symptoms and a physical examination.
Fibromyalgia was first recognized as an illness and a cause of disability in 1987 when an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association described the disorder as fibromyalgia. In 1990, The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) published the first criteria for identifying fibromyalgia.
Signs and Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The typical symptoms of fibromyalgia are chronic (greater than 3 months) widespread pain and tenderness. But no two people with fibromyalgia experience symptoms the same way. Some may also experience other symptoms, such as fatigue, memory loss, and insomnia.
People with fibromyalgia usually have good days and bad days, and do not feel the same kinds of pain all the time. And although they may look fine, they may still be struggling with fibromyalgia symptoms that make it difficult to work or to perform everyday activities.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
Although the cause of fibromyalgia is not entirely understood, many experts believe it may be related to central sensitization, a change in the central nervous system in which pain signals the body would ordinarily perceive as minor become more intense.
As a result, fibromyalgia patients may find normally non-painful experiences - such as a hug - painful. They may also feel pain more intensely than others would under similar circumstances.
Since fibromyalgia cannot be detected through typical diagnostic procedures such as x-rays, blood tests, biopsies, or other laboratory tests, patients are typically diagnosed based on their symptoms and a physical examination by a physician.
While fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain and tenderness, healthcare providers focus on the type of pain in order to distinguish fibromyalgia from other chronic pain disorders. Healthcare providers typically rule out other causes of symptoms before making a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
The American College of Rheumatology established the criteria for the identification of fibromyalgia and its symptoms in 1990, including the following:
- A history of widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body (left front, right front, left back, right back) for at least 3 months
- The presence of pain in at least 11 of 18 “tender points” – specific areas of the body that are extremely sensitive in people with fibromyalgia when the healthcare provider applies mild pressure. Pain is rated on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 4 (worst pain)
- Presence of other symptoms, including fatigue, sleep problems, depressed mood, headache, and bowel problems
Who Treats Patients with Fibromyalgia?
Only a healthcare professional can diagnose someone with fibromyalgia. Healthcare professionals who typically treat patients with fibromyalgia may include primary care physicians, rheumatologists, and pain management specialists.