Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points — places on your body where slight pressure causes pain.
Fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men. Previously, fibromyalgia was known by other names such as fibrositis, chronic muscle pain syndrome, psychogenic rheumatism and tension myalgias.
Although the intensity of symptoms may vary, they’ll probably never disappear completely. It may be reassuring to know, however, that fibromyalgia isn’t progressive or life-threatening. Treatments and self-care steps can improve fibromyalgia symptoms and your general health.
What causes fibromyalgia?
Doctors don’t know what causes fibromyalgia. Current thinking centers around a theory called “central sensitization.” This theory states that people with fibromyalgia have a lower threshold for pain because of increased sensitivity in the brain to pain signals. Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). In addition, the brain’s pain receptors (neurons) — which receive signals from the neurotransmitters — seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals. In this way, pressure on a spot on the body that wouldn’t hurt someone without
fibromyalgia can be very painful to someone who has the condition. But what initiates this process of central sensitization isn’t known. It’s likely that a number of factors contribute to the development of fibromyalgia.
Other theories as to the cause of fibromyalgia include:
– Sleep disturbances
– Spinal Injury
– Abnormalities of the autonomic (sympathetic) nervous system
– Changes in muscle metabolism. For example, deconditioning and decreased blood flow to muscles may contribute to decreased strength and fatigue.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The defining symptoms of fibromyalgia are chronic, widespread pain and tenderness to light touch, and usually moderate to severe fatigue. Those affected may also experience heightened sensitivity of the skin (also called allodynia), tingling of the skin (often needle-like), achiness in the muscle tissues, prolonged muscle spasms, weakness in the limbs, and nerve pain. Chronic sleep disturbances are also characteristic of fibromyalgia.
Other symptoms often attributed to fibromyalgia (possibly due to another:
comorbid disorder) may include myofascial pain syndrome, chronic paresthesia, physical fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, genitourinary symptoms (such as those associated with the chronic bladder condition interstitial cystitis), dermatological disorders, headaches, myoclonic twitches, and symptomatic hypoglycemia. Although it is common in people with fibromyalgia for pain to be widespread, it may also be localized in areas such as the shoulders, neck, back, hips, or other areas.