What Is Fibromyalgia?

January 13, 2020.

Fibromyalgia has received a lot of attention in the past few decades. Indeed, much of the attention this condition has received has been rooted in skepticism and overall confusion about what is fibromyalgia. Many people even in the medical community used to question “Is fibromyalgia a real disease?” However, our knowledge of fibromyalgia has vastly increased and we are understanding more and more about this chronic, debilitating disease. Really, fibromyalgia is a real disease. Now that we can let go of the stigma, let’s dive into what this condition involves.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic, painful, and debilitating condition that is characterized by:

  • Musculoskeletal pain and tenderness
  • Generalized fatigue
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Cognitive impairment

Fibromyalgia affects about 2% of the adult population in the United States. Of that statistic, 90% of people with fibromyalgia are women. Signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Pain and stiffness all over the body
  • Fatigue and overall tiredness
  • Problems with sleep
  • Difficulty thinking, memory, and concentration
  • Migraine headaches
  • Tingling and numbness in hands and feet
  • Face and jaw (TMJ) pain
  • Digestive problems similar to those found in IBS (Irritable Bowel Disease)
  • Bladder problems

Many people also report brain fog. In the fibromyalgia community, they refer to this sensation as “fibro fog.” Interestingly, one study found that people with fibro fog were more frustrated by their cognitive symptoms than fibro pain.

If you are reading this and you are in perimenopause, you may notice that many of the symptoms are similar to perimenopause. However, it is important to note that fibromyalgia is NOT one of the 34 symptoms of perimenopause.

Just to clarify.

There are certain risk factors that can increase your chance of having fibromyalgia.

  • Increasing age
  • Having lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Being female
  • PTSD
  • Repetitive physical injuries, such as repetitive stress on knees
  • Illness such as viral infections
  • Family history
  • Obesity

What causes fibromyalgia?

The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. However, there are some theories. People with fibromyalgia may be more sensitive to pain than people without the disease. Indeed, it is suggested that your nervous system may misinterpret and therefore overreact to pain signals. This miscommunication may be an abnormality rooted in a chemical imbalance or an anomaly between the dorsal root ganglion that negatively affects the central nervous system (i.e. the brain).

How is Fibromyalgia diagnosed?

There is no precise diagnostic tool for fibromyalgia. Rather, your doctor may make this diagnosis if you have had widespread chronic pain for 3 months or longer. Similarly, your doctor will need to confirm that the pain is not from another condition. You will need to give a thorough medical history to your doctor, who will then perform a comprehensive physical exam. Your doctor may run some tests to rule out other conditions including x-rays and blood work.

What does fibromyalgia pain feel like?

What makes fibromyalgia so hard to understand is that everyone feels the pain differently. Some people in fibromyalgia forums describe the muscular and joint pain as electric, zinging, or aching. Other people experience burning skin, especially if a waistband or bra strap is a little tight. Even light touch can cause a burning sensation or allodynia.

How is fibromyalgia treated?

Medication and lifestyle modifications can help manage this condition. Your doctor may prescribe some medication or recommend over-the-counter pain relief. Exercise such as aerobics, yoga, and muscle strengthening can relieve symptoms. Implementing strategies to relieve stress such as meditation and massage can be beneficial. Similarly, practicing good sleep hygiene can help improve sleep disturbance and fibro fog. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help treat depression and improve cognitive disturbance. Finally, finding support in communities and groups that focus on fibromyalgia can be essential in treating this debilitating condition.

If you are concerned that you may have fibromyalgia, meet with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and strategize about what treatment options will be best for you.

Curious how menopause affects fibromyalgia in other women? Join us in our free perry app.

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.

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Julia Walker
perry expert Julia (RN, BSN, BA) is a registered nurse based in Colorado. Julia's nursing background in women’s health has ranged from neonatal and postpartum care to labor and delivery, to outpatient gynecological medicine for both adolescent and adult populations. She specializes in helping women optimize their health during perimenopause and beyond.

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