Fibromyalgia, or Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS), is a chronic medical condition that could be possibly summed up in two words: “pain everywhere.”
Fibromyalgia sufferers endure daily a level of pain so intense that it hurts to be touched. This constant battle with pain results in a long cascade of accompanying symptoms and signs of fibromyalgia.
Because the complex signs and symptoms are not just related to pain, the simple terms “fibro-, ” meaning fiber or fibrous tissue, and “myalgia,” meaning non- specific muscle pain, only describe a portion of the entire fibromyalgia picture.
Both the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Rheumatology recognize fibromyalgia as a complex disease which involves the physical body, brain chemistry, mental function, and psycho- emotional health.
Despite this recognition, many medical doctors still refuse to treat fibromyalgia because they cannot find anything clinically wrong with the patient during the physical examination.
The American College of Rheumatology estimates that from 2-4% of the adult population in the world have fibromyalgia. Of these, women experience fibromyalgia signs and symptoms more than men in a nine to one ratio.
What are the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Web MD lists the following thirty- nine signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia. Not every person experiencing fibromyalgia will manifest every symptom. However, the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
|Muscle- Related Fibromyalgia Symptoms|
|Constant or chronic pain in muscles all over the body, especially in the shoulders, neck, lower back, and hips|
|Muscle spasms or cramps, including heart palpitations|
|Muscle and joint stiffness upon waking or after sitting in one place for an extended period of time|
|Muscle aches and tenderness in the face, particularly the jaw|
|Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)|
|Poor recovery after exercise, or avoiding exercise altogether due to pain|
|Muscle weakness in the arms or legs|
|Energy- Related Fibromyalgia Symptoms|
|Moderate to severely debilitating fatigue|
|Complete lack of energy, feeling “wiped out” most of the time|
|Insomnia due to constant pain at night|
|Feeling exhausted, even after a decent night’s sleep|
|Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels|
|Mental Concentration Fibromyalgia Symptoms|
|Brain fog, often referred to as “fibro fog”|
|Difficulty remembering simple things|
|Difficulty with mental math or other simple mental tasks; “can’t think”|
|Short or long term memory loss|
|Inability to multi- task|
|Attention deficit disorder|
|Gastro- intestinal Symptoms of Fibromyalgia|
|Irritable Bowel Syndrome|
|Alternating between diarrhea and constipation|
|Neurological Symptoms Related to Fibromyalgia|
|Numbness or tingling sensations in the face, hands, feet, arms or legs|
|Feeling as if the hands or feet are swelling, but without evidence of edema|
|High sensitivity of any of the following: bright lights, noise, cold temperatures, certain odors or foods|
|Urinary urgency- feeling as if the bladder constantly needs to be emptied|
|Psychological Symptoms of Fibromyalgia|
|Anxiety and panic|
|Chronic clinical depression|
|Post traumatic stress disorder|
|Hormonal- Endocrine Symptoms of Fibromyalgia|
|Adrenal gland dysfunction|
|Pituitary gland dysfunction|
|Thyroid gland dysfunction|
|Low insulin levels|
|Growth hormone dysfunction in some cases|
In 2007, researchers in the Department of Medicine at Soroka Medica Center in Beer Sheva, Israel linked fibromyalgia to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and stated the two medical conditions shared very common signs and symptoms.
The researchers recommended that anyone treating patients for fibromyalgia must address not only the physical symptoms of the disease, but the emotional signs, as well.
A medical study published in The Neuroscientist in 2008 showed that the brains in fibromyalgia patients show alterations in brain chemistry and structure.
There is strong evidence that fibromyalgia sufferers perceive common stimuli such as noise levels, odors and normal pain thresholds completely differently than healthy individuals.
The neurotransmitters, the parts of the cell which transmit signals to the brain, send very low- level messages to the brain for peace, safety, happiness, and a sense of calm. These neurotransmitters also send very high levels of pain messages to the brain.
This particular study suggested that the alterations in the brain seen in fibromyalgia did not originate in the brain.
Instead, the scientists believe that fibromyalgia is due to psychological trauma which occurred either during childhood or either prolonged or severe stress during adulthood.
Primary signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia
Not ever getting a good night’s rest
One of the primary signs of fibromyalgia is not getting enough sleep at night.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) tests have shown that fibromyalgia sufferers do not get enough “deep sleep,” where the brain emits slow delta wave patterns. Without “delta” sleep, a person never wakes up feeling refreshed.
Although fibromyalgia patients complain of widespread pain, doctors cannot find a source of the pain on medical examination. This often causes doctors and uninformed loved ones to state that the disease is “all in the head.”
Actually, there are central nervous system abnormalities present in the body and brain of people with fibromyalgia.
Every person experiences a feeling of anxiety and tension when he knows he is about to experience pain. This anticipation, fear, or “flinching” is called “wind up.”
In a fibromyalgia patient, “wind up” goes to extreme levels. Then when the fibromyalgia patient does feel the pain, he experiences the pain in his mind with twice to three times the intensity of a healthy person.
Endocrine system dysfunction
Problems with low blood sugar levels, adrenal fatigue, thyroid malfunction, and other issues with the endocrine system may all be fibromyalgia symptoms.
Scientists in the Department of Rheumatology at the University of Giessen in Bad Nauheim, Germany believe these symptoms are due to long term chronic stress.
The “fight or flight” signal is left “on” constantly, which disrupts the normal function of the pituitary and adrenal glands. This eventually inhibits the normal function of other glands and hormones.
Hyperactive nervous system
Another definitive sign of fibromyalgia is a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system. The adrenals are so fatigued from hyperactivity that they barely respond to stressors like physical exercise and mental stress.
Although physically exhausted, people with fibromyalgia have a difficult time “turning their brains off” at night.
Abnormalities in cerebrospinal fluid
When a sample of spinal fluid is taken from patients with fibromyalgia, a very common result is low levels of the brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, and high levels of endorphins and enkephalins.
Serotonin, noepinephrine, and dopamine are neurotransmitters. Low levels of these neurotransmitters are indicative of major depression. Included in the clinical picture of depression are feelings of sadness, guilt, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
The “fibro fog,” insomnia, and severe fatigue experienced in fibromyalgia are all related to the lower levels of these three neurotransmitters.
There are also increases in excitatory amino acids, which show up in the body as pain signals.
Abnormalities in the brain
Brain images of patients with fibromyalgia have shown decreased blood flow to the brain, abnormal responses to pain, abnormal levels of neurotransmitters, and an acceleration and progression of brain atrophy. The brain in a person with fibromyalgia ages faster and grows smaller at ten times the rate of a healthy individual.