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How do you know you have Fibromyalgia?

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

Fibromyalgia (Fibro), also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but it's thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and nerves) processes pain messages carried around the body.

In many cases, the condition appears to be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event, such as:

  • an injury or infection

  • emotional trauma

  • giving birth

  • having an operation

  • the breakdown of a relationship

  • the death of a loved one

Anyone can develop fibromyalgia, although it affects around 7 times as many women as men.

The condition typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50, but can occur in people of any age, including children and the elderly.

It's not clear exactly how many people are affected by fibromyalgia, although research has suggested it could be a relatively common condition. Some estimates suggest nearly 1 in 20 people may be affected by fibromyalgia to some degree.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

As well as widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia may also have:

  • increased sensitivity to pain

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)

  • muscle stiffness

  • difficulty sleeping

  • problems with mental processes (known as "fibro-fog"), such as problems with memory and concentration

  • headaches

  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating

If you think you have fibromyalgia, visit a general physician. Treatment is available to ease some of its symptoms, although they're unlikely to disappear completely.

How do I know I have it?

The most common answer to this question is….

“possibly, but we can’t say for sure … come back in 3 months time.”

Not what you want to hear when your body’s wracked with aches and pains. You feel depressed, exhausted, constipated, constantly getting migraine and chronic muscle pain throughout the body.

Firstly, there’s no definitive blood test or x-ray to confirm the diagnosis. Fibro falls into the category of a 'diagnosis by exclusion,’ meaning doctors have to rule out all other possibilities before being able to label it.

For Fibro to be diagnosed, certain criteria usually have to be met. The most widely used criteria for diagnosis are:

  • you either have severe pain in 3 to 6 different areas of your body, or you have milder pain in 7 or more different areas

  • your symptoms have stayed at a similar level for at least 3 months

  • no other reason for your symptoms has been found

The extent of the pain used to be assessed by applying gentle pressure to certain "tender points", where any pain is likely to be at its worst. But this is less common nowadays.

It's also possible to have other conditions alongside your fibromyalgia, such as:

  • depression

  • anxiety

  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

If your symptoms suggest that you have another condition as well as fibromyalgia, you may need further tests to diagnose these. Identifying all possible conditions will help guide your treatment.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should meet with your general physician for a formal diagnosis.

(Source NHS)

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