According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fibromyalgia is an often debilitating condition that affects about 4 million U.S. adults or about 2% of the population. It primarily impacts women. In some estimates, almost 90% of those who have fibromyalgia are female. It is also notoriously difficult to diagnose. It takes an average of three to five years to diagnose fibromyalgia, according the National Fibromyalgia Association.

Diagnosis

Many people who have fibromyalgia are never diagnosed, and because of the variety of symptoms, it is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Many fibromyalgia patients appear perfectly healthy despite being in near-constant pain. There is also no known cause and no objective diagnostic lab tests that doctors can perform. Instead, doctors must depend on a patient’s description of their symptoms. As a result, fibromyalgia is often diagnosed through elimination after physicians have ruled out other causes for the symptoms.

Causes

No one is certain what causes fibromyalgia. However, some researchers believe it is related to some disruption in how the brain processes pain signals. While these are not considered to be contributing factors, you are more likely to get fibromyalgia if you are female or suffer from or have experienced:

  • Another painful disease, such as arthritis
  • A serious infection
  • A mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression
  • Physical or emotional abuse or PTSD

Lack of physical activity or a family history of fibromyalgia are also thought to be contributing factors. Fibromyalgia can often be mistaken for other conditions, so it is vital to recognize the symptoms.

1. Pain

Pain is by far the most common symptom of fibromyalgia. People suffering from this condition often experience widespread chronic pain. They may also be far more sensitive to pain than other people. This pain and discomfort often manifest themselves as muscle pain, burning, twitching or tightness. Although similar to osteoarthritis, bursitis or tendinitis, pain and stiffness spread throughout the body with fibromyalgia. It is seldom localized to a specific area.

In addition to chronic, deep muscle pain, fibromyalgia sufferers may also experience what are known as tender points. Tender points identify pain found around, although not in, the joints. Tender points, as the name implies, will also be sensitive to touch.

For diagnostic purposes, doctors look for pain on both sides of the body and both below and above the waist. This widespread pain is what separates fibromyalgia from other conditions. Some people living with fibromyalgia may also experience tension headaches or belly pain.

People with fibromyalgia may also be more sensitive to pain than people without fibromyalgia, a condition known as abnormal pain perception processing. They may experience a generally lower pain threshold or tender points on the body where they are more sensitive to pain.

2. Fatigue

Many fibromyalgia patients also complain of an almost draining fatigue. In fact, 4 out of 5 people diagnosed with fibromyalgia report overwhelming fatigue as a primary symptom. They may awaken exhausted even though they have slept for an extended period of time.

When they do sleep, however, it may also be frequently interrupted by pain. Sleep-related conditions such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea are common among fibromyalgia patients.

For people suffering from fibromyalgia, even simple, everyday activities like household chores can be exhausting.

3. Fibro-Fog

Some patients with fibromyalgia also report trouble concentrating and maintaining focus. They may also have short term memory issues or report an inability to remain attentive to a task. Problems with thinking clearly and general mental slowness can also appear with fibromyalgia. Some researchers have also reported that executive functioning skills, such as planning abilities, decision-making, and abstract thinking, may also diminish with fibromyalgia.

These conditions are often referred to as a fibro-fog, a disabling condition that can devastate a sufferer’s life.

4. Mood Disorders

Mood disorders frequently go hand in hand with fibromyalgia. As many as half of people with fibromyalgia have also been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. Experts are unsure whether these mood disorders result from constant pain and fatigue or whether they are another symptom of the disease.

Patients will also often report feeling excessively nervous, worried or sad.

Other Potential Symptoms

These are just some of the significant or dominant symptoms that may indicate fibromyalgia. Other symptoms that may manifest with this often-debilitating disease can include:

  • Bloating, nausea, constipation or diarrhea
  • Bladder issues
  • Dry mouth, nose and eyes
  • Sensitivity to cold, heat, light or sound
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities

These symptoms can vary widely. While some patients may only report one or two, others will have many symptoms. They may also come and go over time. If you think you have fibromyalgia, document your symptoms and start the diagnosis process with your family doctor, who will recommend specialists if necessary.