Fibromyalgia is an acute rheumatic condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal pains in the body and is associated with fatigue, stiffness, and cognitive difficulties. Diagnosing fibromyalgia is difficult because its symptoms are common in several other medical conditions. Doctors must first eliminate the possibility that these other medical conditions are the cause of the persistent pain before diagnosing for fibromyalgia.
Due to ongoing research on the subject, we now know that fibromyalgia is a neurosensory disorder. What this means is that it makes people much more sensitive to painful stimuli (Gracely, et al. 2002).
The 2010 modified American College of Rheumatology criteria for fibromyalgia proposed what is called the Polysymptomatic distress scale (PDS), which is a self-administered patient questionnaire based on the WPI scale (19 trigger points in the body), and the Symptom Severity (SS) scale plus a section that inquires about previous abdominal cramps or headaches in the past 6 months. Patients need to score 13 or higher on the PDS (0-31), and have persistent symptoms beyond 3 months, in the absence of other possible causes, to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia (Walitt B, et al. 2015).
The pain associated with fibromyalgia can range from aching, to shooting, to burning, and it can even be so bad it limits motion. Another common symptom is chronic fatigue, even with adequate amounts of sleep. It is instructive to note that restful sleep is one of the most important things people with fibromyalgia can do to mitigate their symptoms. Other common symptoms include trouble thinking and remembering things, as well as anxiety and depression, especially with severe or untreated cases.
While we still don’t know exactly what causes fibromyalgia, we know that it affects more women than men, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The severity of symptoms is so persistent, if left untreated, that it can often cause severe physical and emotional distress in patients. Doctors haven’t isolated the cause or causes, but they do have some leads. Family history seems to be a significant risk factor, as are bacterial and viral infections, such as Lyme disease or Hep C.
Another possible risk factor is physical and emotional stress or injury. Even high levels of pain sensitivity chemicals in the brain and spinal cord are shown to correlate with fibromyalgia. According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, approximately 10 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, with global numbers putting it somewhere between 3% and 6% of the population. It can be difficult for doctors to diagnose, which leads to many cases going untreated. So if you’re worried you or a loved one may have fibromyalgia, be sure to talk with your doctor, but remember that there is no centralized and definite cure for Fibromyalgia though symptoms can be managed.