Fibromyalgia is a medical condition characterized primarily by chronic widespread pain that lasts for at least three months. It is considered a rheumatic disease because the pain is musculoskeletal, meaning it occurs mostly in muscles and joints. Although it is a patient's pain that often brings him or her to a physician, a host of other symptoms are commonly present.
If you experience chronic pain and think you might have fibromyalgia, your physician will use several tools to classify your pain and look for the presence of other symptoms associated with the disorder. More serious medical conditions show many of the same symptoms as fibromyalgia, and your doctor can use diagnostic methods to make sure you don't have a disease that requires immediate treatment.
If you experience any of the other symptoms discussed below, you should schedule an appointment with your physician.
Pain is the definitive symptom of fibromyalgia, so it is the first that physicians investigate. Most patients describe soreness in the legs, chest, back, and neck so severe that it is nearly debilitating. For some, this primary symptom also manifests as muscle cramping, weakness, and "knotting."
In addition to the chronic pain, a pain-related symptom called allodynia often occurs. Allodynia is present when a person perceives an otherwise painless stimulus as painful. For example, someone with fibromyalgia might experience moderate to severe pain from a simple pat on the back or a gentle massage.
Fatigue and Sleep Disturbance
Many patients with fibromyalgia also report extreme fatigue, and nearly all have some form of unusual tiredness. While most people certainly experience days or weeks during which they feel drained, the tired feeling from fibromyalgia far surpasses this: A patient with fibromyalgia may feel so exhausted that getting up to eat or take a shower is impossible. Issues with fatigue are often compounded by sleep disturbances, including restlessness and inability to fall and stay asleep.
In addition to the physical symptoms described above, about half of patients with fibromyalgia experience depression, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. Since the exact cause of fibromyalgia hasn't been discovered, it is not possible to say whether symptoms such as depression arise from the fibromyalgia itself or are consequences of the debilitating nature of the condition.
Fibromyalgia patients often show several hallmark cognitive symptoms, and the informal term "fibro fog" denotes the overall mental state that results. Difficulties concentrating, focusing, and remembering are a few key features. A recent scientific study revealed that patients with fibromyalgia show a decreased capacity to plan ahead, remember fine details, and carry out complex cognitive tasks often required for gainful employment.
While chronic pain and fatigue are the most common, dozens of symptoms have been recorded over the years. Headaches, morning stiffness, digestive disorders, a sense of being off-balance, and burning, itchy skin are a few.