Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that affects the fibres and muscles in the body, resulting in widespread pain and tenderness.
There is no known cause and there is no cure. Symptoms of fibromyalgia vary from person to person, in both intensity and severity.
While there is no cure for this condition it is also not progressive, which means that it will not get worse over the years.
The symptoms range from mild to extreme and can include some or all of the following: aches to the body, high sensitivity, migraines, depression, sleep disorders, chronic fatigue and cognitive impairment.
Decreased pain threshold and high sensitivity
Fibromyalgia sufferers possess a low threshold for pain and surprisingly, a high tolerance for pain. An increased level of Substance P, a neuromodulator in the cerebral spinal fluid that tells them when something is painful, changes the effectiveness of their neurotransmitters.
This means that in a person with fibromyalgia, sensations like touch or light that most people deem normal, they find extremely painful.
They feel inappropriate responses to otherwise normal stimuli; some people experience a tingling or burning sensation from covering their legs with pants, their skin is so sensitive.
Due to these prolonged sensitivities to light, heat, cold and noise, people with fibromyalgia have developed a high pain tolerance; they have become accustomed to it.
They live with a high pain intensity level on a day to day basis and stimuli that others who do not have the condition find painful, people with fibromyalgia would not consider that uncomfortable.
One of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia is extreme tiredness, or chronic fatigue. Unlike feelings of lethargy or tiredness, chronic fatigue is exhausting, crippling and relentless.
Many people with fibromyalgia liken chronic fatigue to having the aches of the flu, all day and every day. Stress plays a large factor in the feelings of fatigue.
Making a considerable effort to eliminate stressful situations can help people with fibromyalgia. Extra pressures are added to relationships due to the nature of this condition, sufferers find themselves cancelling or backing out of social situations because they simply do not have the energy for it. While chronic fatigue is exhausting in itself, napping or sleep can be difficult.
People with fibromyalgia are commonly restless, and often suffer from insomnia. Sleep disorders are especially challenging as they need sleep to alleviate the aches and pains of fibromyalgia however the aches and pains prevent them from sleeping.
Living with this condition can also cause depression and anxiety, which is detrimental to sleep habits, exacerbating chronic fatigue.
Consistent inadequate sleep puts sufferers of fibromyalgia at a higher risk for high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, heart disease and in some extreme cases, heart failure.
Headaches and migraines
More than half of all people with fibromyalgia complain of headaches in different levels of severity. Some experience a consistent dull throbbing; others feel acute pain and many suffer from migraines.
People with fibromyalgia respond to stress and stressful situations differently to those who do not have the condition.
Substance P levels are higher in sufferers which cause them to feel pain differently; they have inappropriate responses to stimuli.
Abnormal levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and epinephrine are also contributed to this condition, as they cause an increase in excitation throughout the nervous system, causing people with fibromyalgia to over respond to stimuli that is painful; their reactions are stronger.
Due to this, headaches and migraines are common. Imbalances in brain chemicals affect the brain stem and nervous system, which trigger headaches.
A variety of environmental and internal factors can bring on a headache or migraine; however in people with fibromyalgia, they are felt much more severely and can last intermittently, or become a chronic condition.
Memory and cognitive impairment
One of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia is cognitive impairment, or ‘fibro fog.’ This causes sufferers to stumble through their words and speech patterns, become forgetful, experience feelings of confusion and have great difficulty concentrating.
Fibro fog can happen or develop for a number of reasons including using too much energy. People with fibromyalgia have limited energy reserves due to their struggles with chronic fatigue and sleep restlessness.
By over exhausting themselves, not pacing themselves throughout the day or by taking on too much, they can develop cognitive issues.
A lack of sleep affects alertness and memory as both are affected by the inability to rest well that people with fibromyalgia typically suffer with.
Stress can play a big factor in developing or exacerbating cognitive impairment. Stressful situations can be incredibly difficult for a person with this condition as it affects them on both a physical and emotional level.
The pain levels in people with fibromyalgia are incredibly high; they are in varying levels of chronic pain at all times.
This can lead to severe impairment in cognitive abilities especially memory and concentration. When they are in an extreme amount of pain they are less likely to be able to form new short term memories or be able to focus completely on whichever task is at hand.
There is no definitive cause of fibromyalgia; there are no preventative measures, activities or lifestyle changes that can be adopted or implemented.
The most common symptom of this condition is widespread pain throughout the body affecting the fibres and nerves, resulting in tenderness specifically to the neck, shoulders, knees, hips, elbows and chest.
The pain is chronic, though will vary between people from a dull ache to a piercing sharpness. The pain varies in intensity and severity however it is always there.
The brain of people with fibromyalgia changes over time due to repeated nerve stimulation. Neurotransmitters that recognise pain are affected by abnormal levels of epinephrine and serotonin, causing people with this condition to have inappropriate responses to pain, resulting in the widespread ache throughout their muscles and joints.
Pressure point tests are performed by doctors to help find the specific parts of the body that feel the most pain. Pain levels can be managed, though it is unlikely that they will ever be alleviated completely.