Fibromyalgia is a condition that is characterized by chronic widespread pain and tenderness in the muscles and joints. It’s believed that the condition amplifies the way your brain and spinal cord process pain signals. It is estimated that fibromyalgia currently affects as many as five million Americans, mostly middle-aged women.
While the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, there are many known symptoms associated with the condition.
The most common symptoms are pain and fatigue, but several other, lesser-known symptoms can also affect people with fibromyalgia.
More Than Pain
People who suffer from fibromyalgia often complain about chronic pain in their muscles and joints, but fibromyalgia is a lot more than just pain. Patients can also experience a range of other symptoms, some of which are little known or understood. Here are some fibromyalgia symptoms you should know about:
Brain fog or “fibro fog” is a common fibromyalgia symptom that is often overlooked. Patients describe it as a feeling of being mentally cloudy or groggy, as if they can’t think straight. The cause of brain fog is not yet known, but it is thought to be related to the central nervous system dysfunction that is characteristic of fibromyalgia.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that can cause abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Up to 70% of fibromyalgia patients also suffer from IBS, making it one of the most common co-occurring conditions. Medications can help to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms.
Painful Bladder Syndrome
People with fibromyalgia are also at risk for developing painful bladder syndrome or interstitial cystitis (IC), a condition characterized by pain and discomfort when urinating. The cause of painful bladder syndrome is not yet known, but it is thought to be related to central nervous system dysfunction that is characteristic of fibromyalgia.
Symptoms of painful bladder syndrome can include pain in the abdomen and pelvic area, pain during urination, increased frequency of urination, and difficulty emptying the bladder completely. While no cure for IC yet exists, there are ways to treat the symptoms.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating condition characterized by extreme fatigue that lasts for six months or more. Up to 80% of fibromyalgia patients also suffer from CFS, making it one of the most common comorbid conditions. This isn’t surprising since constant pain is exhausting both physically and mentally.
Thankfully, by managing symptoms and following a personalized treatment plan, most patients can significantly improve their quality of life.
Fibromyalgia patients tend to experience psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety and depression. In fact, over half of diagnosed patients will also be diagnosed with some form of mood disorder. However, medication and therapy can help a great deal.
Sleep disorders are very common in fibromyalgia patients, with up to 70% reporting problems such as insomnia and narcolepsy. Poor sleep can worsen fibromyalgia symptoms and can be very frustrating and debilitating. Fortunately, there are therapies, strategies, and medications that can help get patients back to a normal sleep routine.
Thyroid disease can lead to a wide range of symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, and mood changes. Medication at the correct dosage can help minimize symptoms and
If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it’s important to be aware of all the potential symptoms you may experience. These secondary symptoms and comorbidities of fibromyalgia can be just as debilitating as chronic pain, so it’s important to seek treatment if you are experiencing any of them.
Since people who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia often experience other comorbidities as well, such as irritable bowel syndrome and chronic fatigue, which overlap with many other conditions, diagnosis can be challenging. Doctors have to rule out other conditions to make a diagnosis, which can be time-consuming and frustrating for patients.
After diagnosis, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fibromyalgia treatment, so finding the best solution for each patient is like solving a puzzle. It depends on the individual’s symptoms.
In addition to the wide range of symptoms people who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia suffer; many other rarer symptoms can also occur.
One such symptom is called Raynaud’s phenomenon. This occurs when the blood vessels in the hands and feet suddenly constrict, limiting the amount of blood that can reach these areas. This can cause the skin to turn pale or blue, and it can be quite painful.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Another rare symptom is called restless leg syndrome (RLS). This is a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, often accompanied by a creepy-crawly sensation. It can make it difficult to sleep or sit still for long periods of time.
It is important to be aware of all of the possible symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, as they can vary from person to person. If you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.
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There is no blanket treatment for fibromyalgia, as the symptoms can vary from person to person. However, some treatments that are helpful for fibromyalgia patients include:
Exercise has been shown to help improve fibromyalgia symptoms. It may be tough to get started, but gradually adding in more activity can help.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Over 50% of chronic pain patients develop clinical depression or other mood disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective way to change how you think about and cope with your fibromyalgia pain symptoms.
Techniques like yoga and meditation can help reduce stress and tension, which can aggravate fibromyalgia symptoms.
There are a variety of pain medications that can be used to help manage fibromyalgia pain. They vary in strength, effectiveness, and risk of addiction, so it’s very important to discuss risks and benefits with your doctor before starting any long-term pain management plan that involves medication.
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or painful bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis or IC), there are specific medications that can help relieve your symptoms. The same is true for hypothyroidism and mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
Again, talk to your doctor about what medications might work best for you and your symptoms.
Getting enough quality sleep is important for fibromyalgia patients. If you have trouble sleeping, there are a number of sleep aids that can help, including medication, sleep therapies, meditation, and more.
If you think you may be suffering from fibromyalgia or have been diagnosed and begin to experience new symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They can help you determine if fibromyalgia is the cause of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.
The Right Diagnosis
People with rheumatoid arthritis and or lupus are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than the average person.
The symptoms of fibromyalgia and other conditions can be very similar, so patients should work with their doctor to get a correct diagnosis. With a correct diagnosis, they can then begin to receive treatment for their condition, which can help them feel better and lead to an improved quality of life.
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