The overwhelming characteristic of fibromyalgia is long-standing, body-wide pain with defined tender points. Tender points are distinct from trigger points seen in other pain syndromes. Unlike tender points, trigger points can occur in isolation and represent a source of radiating pain, even in the absence of direct pressure.
Fibromyalgia pain can mimic the pain that occurs with various types of arthritis. However, the significant swelling, destruction, and deformity of joints seen in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis do not occur with fibromyalgia syndrome alone.
The soft-tissue pain of fibromyalgia is described as deep aching, radiating, gnawing, shooting or burning, and ranges from mild to severe. Fibromyalgia sufferers tend to wake up with body aches and stiffness.
For some patients, pain improves during the day and increases again during the evening, though many patients with fibromyalgia have daylong, unrelenting pain. Pain can increase with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety, and stress.
Specific symptoms of fibromylagia include:
- Body aches
- Chronic facial muscle pain or aching
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Memory difficulties and cognitive difficulties
- Multiple tender areas (muscle and joint pain) on the back of the neck, shoulders, sternum, lower back, hips, shins, elbows, and knees
- Numbness and tingling
- Reduced exercise tolerance
- Sleep disturbances
- Tension or migraine headaches
Diagnosis of fibromyalgia requires a history of a least 3 months of widespread pain, and pain and tenderness in at least 11 of 18 tender-point sites. These tender-point sites include fibrous tissue or muscles of the:
Sometimes, laboratory and x-ray tests are done to help confirm the diagnosis by ruling out other conditions that may have similar symptoms.
Fibromyalgia is a common and chronic problem. The symptoms sometimes improve. At other times, the symptoms may worsen and continue for months or years. The key is seeking professional help, which includes a multi-faceted approach to the management and treatment of the disease.