What Is Fibromyalgia?
When you first hear those words, ‘you have fibromyalgia,’ there are likely many thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are coursing through your mind.
You may wonder what that is, why you have it, will you ever get better, what your life will be like now. You may worry about how this will affect your job, family, hobbies, your life.
You may even feel a little relief to finally have a name to put to all these frustrating symptoms. You may grieve your former life, feeling like you will never be the same person again.
You will probably feel a hefty combination of a lot of emotions all at once, and for a good reason.
None of these feelings are wrong, none of these feelings are right either. There simply is no right or wrong. Each of us has to deal with our diagnosis in our own way. Just as each of us has to then treat and learn to live with this illness in our own way.
Who Gets Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is one of the most common types of chronic pain disorders. Estimations show that between 200 million to 400 million people worldwide have fibromyalgia.
It is known that more women are affected by fibromyalgia than men, and most are diagnosed at the age of 30 or older. But it is important to remember there are men with fibromyalgia and there are kids and teens with fibromyalgia. Do not dismiss your symptoms, or those of your loved one, because you or they do not fit into the typical criteria for someone with this illness.
What Is Fibromyalgia Exactly?
According to The Mayo Clinic, “researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.”
It has also been found that “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 seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals.”
What does this mean? Simply put, we feel more pain than the average healthy person. Our body interprets pressure as pain; our body interprets slight pain as extreme pain. Our body even feels pain when there is no reason for it at all.
All of that said, many other symptoms are not explained by this.
The Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
There is a long list of over 100 possible symptoms, along with companion illnesses, which are frequently associated with fibromyalgia.
Some of the more common symptoms are:
- Persistent pain throughout the body
- Cognitive fatigue, also known as brain fog
- Joint stiffness
- Muscle stiffness and spasms
- Sleep disturbances
- Anxiety, depression, or mood swings
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Jaw pain, or Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders
- Hormonal imbalances
- Sensitivity to lights, sounds, cold, and heat
- Skin sensitivities
- Frequent or painful urination
The Process of Being Diagnosed With Fibromyalgia
The road to getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia can be different for each individual. But for many, this is a long, bumpy path. I personally have had fibromyalgia since childhood, but I was not diagnosed until I was 22.
I spent years telling different doctors that I hurt, that I just felt unwell. They would find some small thing to blame it on or ignore me altogether. I had convinced myself many of my symptoms were normal, or simply in my head.
But as I got older, the symptoms became worse and more persistent. I finally had to accept that there was something wrong and I needed to find out what it was. I went to a new doctor. I explained to him all of my symptoms and how long they had been going on. He was the first one to really hear me, the first one to recognize something more serious than growing pains, a cold, or the flu.
After doing a number of tests at his office, and they all came back negative, he sent me to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist also listened to all of my many symptoms and ran a plethora of more blood tests. Once again, all the blood tests came back negative. She then did the tender point test, and when I was sore in all of the 18 points, she gave me the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
The tender point test, also called the pressure point test, is no longer considered the definitive test for fibromyalgia as it once was. The Mayo Clinic explains that the reason for this is because “fibromyalgia symptoms can come and go so that a person might have 11 tender spots one day but only eight tender spots on another day. And many family doctors were uncertain about how much pressure to apply during a tender point exam. While specialists or researchers may still use tender points, an alternative set of guidelines has been developed for doctors to use in general practice.”