You’re going about your business in peak physical condition and life is good. Suddenly you wake up one day to tingling and numbness in your leg. You head to the ER and they send you home with no news. Your primary care physician is stumped. He sends you to physical therapy, but they boot you out the door because it might be a pinched nerve. You get an MRI, EMG, and a brain scan. They all turn up clean. You try a chiropractor and any holistic practitioner you can find. Then one day you find yourself in front of rheumatologist who is able to immediately identify and diagnose you with fibromyalgia. Finally.
Or maybe you were in a car accident, your spouse or best friend passed away, or you simply had surgery. You slowly begin to experience some strange and seemingly disconnected symptoms, like muscle aches and extreme fatigue. Then one day your pinky toe feels like it’s on fire and you can’t even wear socks for a few days. Your scalp is itching so badly that you’re scratching yourself raw and causing it to bleed.
Soon you’re overwhelmed with anxiety which is quickly followed by depression. Some days you are in so much pain you can’t even get out of bed. To make matters worse, your friends and family can’t see any physical signs to indicate pain and so they are quickly running out of compassion and patience. You may ask yourself, do I have fibromyalgia?
What is fibromyalgia?
The word “fibromyalgia” is a combination of Greek and Latin that essentially means fibrous tissue/muscle pain. Therefore, the very meaning of the word says volumes about the condition itself, with the keyword being “pain.” The Mayo Clinic provides a very broad summary of the symptoms, which include:
- Widespread pain – this is typically characterized by a dull ache that lasts for at least three months. “Widespread” from a medical perspective means that the pain and/or tenderness is on both sides of the body and is also both above and below the waist.
- Fatigue – If a patient with fibromyalgia can sleep at night (insomnia is very common), they frequently wake during sleeping hours due to pain. No sleep or poor sleep causes fatigue during waking hours and can make it difficult to function and focus. Furthermore, fibromyalgia patients also have other disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome which are additional reasons for waking frequently throughout the night.
- “Fibro fog” – Cognitive impairments such as difficulty concentrating on mental tasks, feeling “hazy,” or the inability to think clearly.
- Other problems – And here’s where it gets crazy. The list of symptoms that fall into the category of “other” are varied, but include conditions such as headaches, abdominal cramping, anxiety, depression, burning sensations either on the skin or from within, IBS, intense itching, muscle and joint pain, as well as hypersensitivity to pain, medications, cold weather, foods, physical touch, and more. Let’s not forget random sensations of cold and tingling, mood swings, abnormally painful menstruation, joint stiffness, a feeling of pins and needles, muscle spasms, and delayed onset muscle soreness.
How do I know if I have fibromyalgia?
Researchers claim that fibromyalgia is far more common in women than men. However, as the criteria have ceased focusing on the number of tender points a patient has, more men are being diagnosed as well. In fact, fibromyalgia has not been recognized as an actual problem for all that long in the United States. Thankfully, pharmaceuticals have been approved and used for several years now that are specifically directed to fibro patients, with varying results.
Diagnosing it has been tough because it’s so difficult to pin-point a problem due to overlapping symptoms and the similarity of fibromyalgia to other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. That is to say, many people have depression, or IBS, or muscle spasms, or fatigue, or joint stiffness.
But they are not necessarily inclined to link those symptoms into one group or condition because they seem disconnected, from both the patient’s perspective and that of the physician. Take a fibromyalgia questionnaire, and know having more than a few of the symptoms above is a pretty good indicator that you either have fibromyalgia or are at great risk of it. But this is by no means a diagnosis. To be sure, talk to your doctor and note that rheumatologists, neurologists, and osteopaths are usually much more knowledgeable about this condition. After all, figuring out the problem is half the battle!