What is fibromyalgia?

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

How is fibromyalgia treated?

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What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome, which means that it is a collection of signs, symptoms and medical problems that tend to occur together but are not related to a specific, identifiable cause. There are no outward signs of the condition but fibromyalgia symptoms include widespread pain, fatigue and sleep disturbance, as well as a broad spectrum of related symptoms including cognitive dysfunction and reduced physical function.

The type and severity of these symptoms and their effects can vary from person to person and from day to day. Many people have flare-ups from time to time when the symptoms become suddenly worse.

People with fibromyalgia often say that fatigue is the worst part of the condition and that they can’t seem to think clearly or remember things properly (sometimes this is called ‘fibrofog’ or ‘brainfog’). 

Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia, with the ratio currently at least 6:1. Though it is more common to be diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 70 years, people of all ages have been diagnosed, and prevalence is similar across countries, cultures and ethnicities.

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What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is characterised by widespread muscle pain and fatigue. The word fibromyalgia comes from the Latin term for fibrous tissue (fibro) and the Greek terms for muscle (myo) and pain (algia).

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can include:

  • widespread pain, often made worse by sustained activity
  • tiredness (fatigue) or lack of energy
  • sleep disorders
  • cognitive and memory problems (sometimes referred to as ‘fibro fog’)
  • forgetfulness or poor concentration
  • poor circulation – tingling, numbness or swelling of hands or feet
  • headaches
  • irritability, feeling low or weepy
  • irritable or uncomfortable bowels
  • urgency to pass urine
  • increased sensitivity – to cold, sound, knocks and bumps
  • tender (overly sensitive) joints and muscles
  • increased stress, worry or low mood

The lack of outward signs of the condition, can result in a lack of appreciation by others of the pain and fatigue being experienced, which can in turn lead to increased feelings of frustration and depression for the person living with fibromyalgia.

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How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

As research continues, fibromyalgia is being diagnosed quicker and more often. There is no definitive test that can detect fibromyalgia, and doctors must often rule out other potential causes of these symptoms before making a diagnosis.

The main symptoms, pain and fatigue, overlap with many other conditions and are not measurable by any test unless they cause damage or inflammation.

At present, there aren’t any specific blood tests, x-rays or scans that can confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia – in fact, typically, people with fibromyalgia will have normal results.

Until relatively recently, the diagnosis of fibromyalgia was based on the presence of specific tender points in certain areas of the body. However, healthcare professionals are now advised to consider the following when making a diagnosis of fibromyalgia –

  • widespread pain lasting three months or more
  • fatigue and/or waking up feeling unrefreshed
  • problems with thought processes like memory and understanding (cognitive symptoms).

Pain is considered to be widespread when it affects all four quadrants of the body; that is, you must have pain in both your right and left sides as well as above and below the waist.

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How is fibromyalgia treated?

Information here

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For further information on fibromyalgia or to speak to someone living with fibromyalgia call the Arthritis Ireland Helpline on 1890252846/01-6618188 or email [email protected]  

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