The word fibromyalgia comes from the Greek myos meaning "muscle", Greek algos meaning "pain", and New Latin fibro meaning "fibrous tissue".
Fibromyalgia is a common and chronic disorder. When a health illness or condition is chronic it means it is long-lasting.
Even though fibromyalgia is frequently referred to as an arthritis-related condition, it does not cause joint damage or inflammation, as arthritis does. Neither does fibromyalgia cause damage to muscle and other tissues. However, it is similar to arthritis because it causes severe pain and tiredness, and can undermine the patient's ability to go about his daily activities. Fibromyalgia is seen as a rheumatic condition. A rheumatic condition is one that causes joint and soft tissue pain.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Morning stiffness
- Irregular sleep patterns
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Painful menstrual periods (Dysmenorrhea)
- Hands and feet tingle and can feel numb
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sensitivity to cold or heat
- Fibro fog (memory problems, cognitive problems).
The following signs and symptoms are also possible
- Widespread pain
- Problems with vision
- Pelvic and urinary problems
- Weight gain
- Cold/flu like symptoms
- Jaw pain and stiffness
- Skin problems
- Chest symptoms
- Myofascial pain syndrome (pain/tiredness in muscles and adjacent fibrous tissues)
- Breathing problems.
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome
A syndrome is a collection of signs, symptoms and medical problems. A disease is a medical condition with defined causes and clear signs and symptoms. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome.
How common is fibromyalgia?
According to reported cases in the USA, approximately 1 in every 73 American adults suffers from fibromyalgia. The American College of Rheumatology says that between 3 and 6 million Americans have fibromyalgia.
The NIH (National Institutes of Health, USA) says 90% of fibromyalgia patients are women. Men and children may also be affected.
Although symptoms may become present at any time during a person's life, they are most commonly reported when the patient is middle-aged.
People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus), or spinal arthritis (ankylosing spondylitis) have a higher risk of developing fibromyalgia, as well as patients with some other rheumatic diseases.
Studies indicate fibromyalgia may also be hereditary. Females who have a close relative with fibromyalgia have a significantly higher risk of suffering from it themselves. Experts are not certain whether the link is genetic, circumstantial, or both.
Causes of fibromyalgia
Experts say there are probably a number of factors. However, nobody is really sure what causes fibromyalgia. Factors such as a traumatic, stressful, or emotional event may be linked to developing fibromyalgia. Possible causal factors currently include:
- A stressful, traumatic physical or emotional event (e.g. Post-traumatic stress disorder, a car accident)
- Repetitive injuries
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- CNS (central nervous system) problems
- The way our genes regulate how we process painful stimuli.
On the next page we look at how fibromyalgia is diagnosed and the available treatment options for fibromyalgia sufferers.