By Anne-Marie D’Arcy-Sharpe, pathways.health/blog/
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder, categorized by widespread pain and fatigue accompanied by many other symptoms. ‘Chronic’ is defined as lasting 3 to 6 months or more.
Fibromyalgia is a common condition that can affect anyone, of any age. It’s estimated that in the UK alone between, “1.8 million and 2.9 million people” have fibromyalgia.
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Aside from widespread pain and fatigue, there are a wide range of symptoms which can vary greatly from person to person. Not everyone with fibromyalgia will have all of the possible symptoms. Symptoms can vary in how they are experienced between individuals and in severity. Within one individual, symptoms can change and vary over time.
Some of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Pain: This pain can be felt anywhere in the body. Pain may vary in severity and position from day to day, or even throughout the day in one individual.
- Hyperalgesia: Increased sensitivity to pain. Hyperalgesia can be defined as, “increased pain from a stimulus that usually provokes pain”
- Allodynia: Allodynia is defined as, “pain due to a stimulus that does not usually provoke pain”.
- Muscle stiffness
- ‘Fibro fog’: Cognitive issues with memory, attention and other thought processes.
- Problems sleeping: Patients can struggle to sleep, and even if they do they can experience non-restorative sleep, meaning they don’t feel any benefit from it.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Sensory sensitivity: This can be sensitivity to sound, light, smells and other environmental factors.
- Paraesthesia: A feeling similar to ‘pins and needles’ which can cause numbness, tingling, prickling or crawling sensations.
- Painful periods
The cause of fibromyalgia is not fully known yet, although research is ongoing. Fibromyalgia Action UK explains that studies suggest that fibromyalgia could stem from a traumatic event, either physically or mentally. It’s understood that fibromyalgia is caused by a problem in the way the brain processes pain messages.
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There is no definitive test for fibromyalgia itself. Typically diagnosis is a process of elimination of other causes for your pain. A physical examination will take place, usually followed by a series of tests to rule out other causes. Your doctor may ask you to monitor your symptoms and keep a record, so they can get a clearer picture of how your symptoms affect you day to day. You may be referred to a specialist, such as a rheumatologist, to investigate further.
You will usually be diagnosed with fibromyalgia if you have pain in between 3 to 6 different areas of your body or more, if your symptoms have lasted more than 3 months, and if there is no other explanation for your symptoms.
There are a wide range of effective treatments for fibromyalgia which can help you to better manage your pain and to reduce symptoms. Many fibromyalgia patients are told that they simply need to ‘get on with it’ and aren’t always made aware of the range of treatments available to them. It’s important you do your own research and advocate for yourself.
Available treatments include:
- Medications: Medications range from over the counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories, to prescribed medications such as stronger painkillers, anticonvulsants and antidepressants.
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy can be very effective in reducing pain, increasing range of motion and overcoming fear of pain, among other positive outcomes.
- Psychological therapies: There are a very wide range of psychological therapies available which are proven to reduce symptoms by retraining the brain away from pain and improving quality of life, as well as help patients cope with the experience of pain. A few of these therapies include:
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Graded Exposure Therapy
- Graded Motor Imagery (GMI)
- Pain Neuroscience Education (PNE)
- Pain management clinics: Pain management clinics or programmes involve attending an outpatient clinic where you will have the opportunity to see a number of specialists to help you treat your chronic pain.
- Self-management: There are many ways to proactively self-manage fibromyalgia at home including self-care, such as ensuring you are exercising, eating well and doing your best to maintain a sleep schedule; pacing your activity; reducing stress; adjusting your environment and more!
It is possible to live a full, happy life despite fibromyalgia!
Treede, R. D., Rief, W., Barke, A., Aziz, Q., Bennett, M. I., et al, (2015). “A classification of chronic pain for ICD-11.” Pain, 156(6), 1003–1007.
Versus Arthritis, (2020), “Fibromyalgia”.
Jensen TS, Finnerup NB, (2014), “Allodynia and hyperalgesia in neuropathic pain: clinical manifestations and mechanisms.” Lancet Neurol. 2014 Sep;13(9):924-35
Fibromyalgia Action UK, (2015), “What is fibromyalgia?”
NHS, (2019), “Fibromyalgia”.
Ann-Marie D’Arcy-Sharpe. Is 33 years old and works as a freelance writer and blogger. She lives with bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia and arthritis.. She writes for Pathways Pain Relief, a chronic pain relief app and blog. The app is created by pain patients and backed by the latest pain science. The app uses mind body therapies to help pain patients achieve natural, long lasting pain relief.