Specialist chronic pain solicitor, Bruce Dyer, considers the common symptoms of fibromyalgia and its diagnosis.
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Fibromyalgia is a chronic (long-term) condition typically characterised by widespread pain, fatigue, memory, mood and sleep issues. However, sufferers report numerous other symptoms, whether constant or intermittent, debilitating or tolerable.
Although there’s possibly a blood test for fibromyalgia on the horizon, traditional medical tests cannot diagnose the condition. Instead, fibromyalgia remains largely a diagnosis of exclusion based on reported symptoms. In other words, does another condition account for a particular symptom or combination of symptoms? However, in 2022, the Royal College of Physicians produced guidelines aimed at helping clinicians in the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
Among the common symptoms possibly indicating fibromyalgia are:
Pain and Tenderness
Persistent pain and aching all over the body is by far and away the most commonly reported symptom of fibromyalgia. But the nature of the pain can vary considerably – sharp, dull, aching or throbbing. For some, the pain appears in certain areas of the body, while for others, it’s bodywide. In addition, the pain may come and go or migrate around the body.
Also, tender points in the soft tissues around the joints are common.
It’s rare to find someone living with fibromyalgia unaffected by lingering tiredness. And some compare the feeling to the constant fatigue experienced with the flu. While some sufferers get through their daily chores by pacing themselves, for others, that’s impossible.
Sleep is fitful, with pain a common cause of waking. And even following sleep, sufferers typically feel unrefreshed.
Most of us experience some stiffness first thing in the morning, but after a few minutes, the sensation eases. However, for people with fibromyalgia, morning stiffness can persist.
Around half of people living with fibromyalgia are diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Living with the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia is highly stressful, so it’s unsurprising if you feel anxious and down. But your mood disorder may also be a direct symptom of fibromyalgia. Depression and fibromyalgia share some symptoms, for example, difficulty concentrating and memory issues. People often refer to this confusion and forgetfulness as “fibro fog.”
Headaches and migraine
Migraine and tension headaches are commonplace with fibromyalgia. Neck and upper back pain, tender points and tight neck muscles can trigger tension headaches and migraine. In some people, these become debilitating.
Swelling and other sensations in the extremities
It’s unclear what causes the tingling, numbness, or even burning sensation many people experience with fibromyalgia. But together, these sensations are referred to as ‘paresthesia’ and tend to happen randomly.
Those with the condition also often suffer restless leg syndrome, needing to move constantly to remain comfortable.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
It’s extremely common for those with fibromyalgia to experience bloating, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhoea or constipation. In addition, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is prevalent.
Check it out
If you are suffering any combination of these symptoms or, indeed, any other persistent symptoms, it’s essential to see your doctor. And if you have fibromyalgia, rest assured that the condition is now far better understood than it was just a few years ago. In most cases, doctors take you seriously and, if appropriate, will refer you for specialist treatment and management.