Feeling chronic pain for seemingly no reason is a mysterious symptom; similarly, fibromyalgia is still a mysterious condition, even to the doctors and researchers who study it daily. Learn more about what fibromyalgia is here.
Chronic pain could be caused a variety of health concerns: arthritis, multiple sclerosis, nerve damage, or even just ongoing, severe stress. For a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, doctors will examine your pain symptoms, medical history, and try to rule out other possible conditions.
“It can be very difficult to differentiate fibromyalgia from other conditions, but there are some telling signs,” says Anita Gupta, MD, a pain specialist at Princeton University. Here are more causes of chronic pain.
These are the symptoms that may indicate fibromyalgia, according to Dr. Gupta.
1. You feel pain in more than one place on your body.
Pain localized in your neck or your wrists, for example, is probably not fibromyalgia. The pain and tenderness caused by fibromyalgia may come in waves and move around the body, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR).
“Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread pain that typically has tender points throughout the body,” says Dr. Gupta. Tender points tend to be on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs, and they are sensitive to touch and pressure.
Many patients describe their pain as throbbing, aching, tingling, burning, and even at times immobilizing.
2. Your pain is worse in the morning than other times of day.
Sleep disruption and sleep disorders are lesser-known yet trademark features of fibromyalgia. Feeling pain and fatigue especially in the morning is a strong indicator of fibromyalgia. “Patients will often have fatigue, stiffness, and difficulty getting out of bed,” says Dr. Gupta. Here are other medical reasons you’re always tired.
3. Your pain is lasting longer than three months.
Injuries heal and a flu passes, but fibromyalgia is a long-term condition. To meet the criteria for a fibromyalgia diagnosis, symptoms must be present for at least three months at a consistent level, according to ACR.
4. You have other symptoms besides muscle and joint pain.
Fibromyalgia goes beyond having tender points. It can affect your physical health in many seemingly unconnected ways. These are other common symptoms associated with fibromyalgia:
Painful menstrual periods
Gastrointestinal issues, including irritable bowel syndrome
Tingling in the hands and feet
Sensitivity to temperatures, sounds, and bright lights
Cognitive problems, called “fibro fog”
“For most patients, the most difficult symptom of fibromyalgia is the depression,” says Dr. Gupta. “They typically can’t function, their relationships deteriorate, and it can lead to other situations in their life that cycles out of control.”
A Difficult Diagnosis: Why Fibromyalgia Is Undertreated
Because fibromyalgia has no one single test, it’s difficult to diagnose. Doctors often only land on a fibromyalgia diagnosis once they’ve ruled out many other possible health concerns. Unfortunately, family, friends, and even doctors of fibro patients may question the symptoms or the extent of the pain.
And then there’s a gender bias at work: Fibromyalgia tends to affect women more commonly than men. While 2.38 percent of U.S. women have fibromyalgia, only 1.06 percent of men do, according to a 2015 study. Here are more risk factors for fibromyalgia.
Studies have found that women’s pain is less likely to receive adequate funding for research, is more likely to be dismissed by doctors as “not real,” and is less likely to receive appropriate diagnoses and treatment.
Currently, fibromyalgia is treated with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, and this can reduce symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. Seek a doctor’s help if you’ve been dealing with symptoms you believe are caused by fibromyalgia.