The universal symptom of fibromyalgia is pain. The pain in fibromyalgia is not caused by tissue inflammation. Instead, these patients seem to have an increased sensitivity to many different sensory stimuli and an unusually low pain threshold. Minor sensory stimuli that ordinarily would not cause pain in individuals can cause disabling, sometimes severe pain in patients with fibromyalgia. The body pain of fibromyalgia can be aggravated by noise, weather change, and emotional stress.
The pain of fibromyalgia is generally widespread, involving both sides of the body. Pain usually affects the neck, buttocks, shoulders, arms, the upper back, and the chest. "Tender points" are localized areas of the body that are tender to light touch. Fibromyalgia tender points, or pressure points, are commonly found around the elbows, shoulders, knees, hips, back of the head, and the sides of the breastbone.
Fibromyalgia "tender points" are sometimes incorrectly referred to as "trigger points," which is terminology that is used to describe a situation whereby pressing on certain trigger points can initiate a sequence of symptoms. This is not the case with fibromyalgia tender points, which are chronically a focus of pain and tenderness in the particular area involved.
Fatigue occurs in 90% of patients. Fatigue may be related to abnormal sleep patterns commonly observed in these patients. Normally, there are several levels of depth of sleep. Getting enough of the deeper levels of sleep may be more important in refreshing a person than the total number of hours of sleep. Patients with fibromyalgia lack the deep, restorative level of sleep, called "non-rapid eye movement" (non-REM) sleep. Consequently, patients with fibromyalgia often awaken in the morning without feeling fully rested, even though they seem to have had an adequate number of hours of sleep time. Some patients awaken with muscle aches or a sensation of muscle fatigue as if they had been "working out" all night!
Mental and/or emotional disturbances occur in over half of people with fibromyalgia. These symptoms include poor concentration, forgetfulness, mood changes, irritability, depression, and anxiety. Since a firm diagnosis of fibromyalgia is difficult and no confirmatory laboratory tests are available, patients with fibromyalgia are often misdiagnosed as having depression as their primary underlying problem.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include migraine and tension headaches, numbness or tingling of different parts of the body, abdominal pain related to irritable bowel syndrome ("spastic colon"), and irritable bladder, causing painful and frequent urination. Like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome can cause chronic abdominal pain and other bowel disturbances without detectable inflammation of the stomach or the intestines.
Each patient with fibromyalgia is unique. Any of the above symptoms can occur intermittently and in different combinations.
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