Fibromyalgia has received a lot of attention in the past few decades. Indeed, much of the attention this condition has received has been rooted in skepticism and overall confusion about what is fibromyalgia. Many people even in the medical community used to question “Is fibromyalgia a real disease?” However, our knowledge of fibromyalgia has vastly increased and we are understanding more and more about this chronic, debilitating disease. Really, fibromyalgia is a real disease. Now that we can let go of the stigma that may have surrounded it in the past, let’s dive into what this condition involves.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic, painful, and debilitating condition that is characterized by:
Musculoskeletal pain and tenderness
Fibromyalgia affects about 2% of the adult population in the United States. Of that statistic, 90% of people with fibromyalgia are women. Signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
Pain and stiffness all over the body
Fatigue and overall tiredness
Problems with sleep
Difficulty thinking, memory, and concentration
Tingling and numbness in hands and feet
Face and jaw (TMJ) pain
Digestive problems similar to those found in IBS (Irritable Bowel Disease)
Many people also report brain fog. In the fibromyalgia community, they refer to this sensation as “fibro fog.” Interestingly, one study found that people with fibro fog were more frustrated by their cognitive symptoms than fibro pain.
Babe, if you are reading this and you are in perimenopause, you may notice that many of the symptoms are similar to perimenopause. However, it is important to note that fibromyalgia is NOT one of the 34 symptoms of perimenopause.
Just to clarify.
There are certain risk factors that can increase your chance of having fibromyalgia.
Having lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
Repetitive physical injuries, such as repetitive stress on knees
Illness such as viral infections
What causes fibromyalgia?
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. However, there are some theories. It is suspected that people with fibromyalgia may be more sensitive to pain than people without the disease. Indeed, it is suggested that your nervous system may misinterpret and therefore overreact to pain signals. This miscommunication may be an abnormality rooted in a chemical imbalance or an anomaly between the dorsal root ganglion that negatively affects the central nervous system (i.e. the brain).
How is Fibromyalgia diagnosed?
There is no precise diagnostic tool for fibromyalgia. Rather, your doctor may make this diagnosis if you have had widespread chronic pain for 3 months or longer. Similarly, your doctor will need to confirm that the pain is not caused by another condition. You will need to give a thorough medical history to your doctor, who will then perform comprehensive physical exam. Your doctor may run some tests to rule out other conditions including x-rays and blood work.
What does fibromyalgia pain feel like?
What makes fibromyalgia so hard to understand is that everyone feels the pain differently. Some people in fibromyalgia forums describe the muscular and joint pain as electric, zinging, or aching. Other people experience burning skin, especially if a waist band or bra strap is a little tight. Even light touch can cause a burning sensation, or allodynia.
How is fibromyalgia treated?
Fibromyalgia can be managed and treated with medication and lifestyle modifications. Your doctor may prescribe some medication or recommend over-the-counter pain relief. Exercise such as aerobics, yoga, and muscle strengthening can relieve symptoms. Implementing strategies to relieve stress such as meditation and massage can be beneficial. Similarly, practicing good sleep hygiene can help improve sleep disturbance and fibro fog. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help treat depression and improve cognitive disturbance. Finally, finding support in communities and groups that focus on fibromyalgia can be essential in treating this debilitating condition.
If you are concerned that you may have fibromyalgia, meet with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and strategize about what treatment options will be best for you. Curious about how menopause affects fibromyalgia? Join our Perry community of awesome babes who share tips, tricks, and support. To get the inside scoop on all things perimenopause, download our Perimenopause guide. We are breaking the last taboo in women’s reproductive cycles!
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.
Meet The Author
Perry Babe Julia ( RN, BSN, BA) is a registered nurse based in Colorado. Julia's nursing background in women’s health has ranged from neonatal and postpartum care, to labor and delivery, to outpatient gynecological medicine for both adolescent and adult populations.
Much of her education and clinical experience is related to educating women on women’s health topics ranging from lifestyle improvements, disease management, and general health education. Find Julia's Perry community profile right here.