Fibromyalgia - Symptoms

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What are fibromyalgia symptoms and signs?

The defining feature of fibromyalgia is chronic widespread pain. This means pain in multiple areas of the body, most commonly in muscles, tendons, and joints. The pain is generally above and below the waist, on the left side of the body and on the right side of the body, but can be localized, often in the neck and shoulders or low back, initially. The pain is chronic, which means it is present for more than three months. Patients commonly feel as if they "hurt all over" or as if they have the flu, or are about to develop a cold or the flu. It is common for some days to be worse than others, and many patients report "flare-ups" where their pain and other symptoms are worse for several days in a row or longer.

Fatigue is the other universal symptom of fibromyalgia. It is most noticeable upon awakening, but it may also be marked in the mid-afternoon. It is very common to wake up in the morning not feeling refreshed, even after sleeping through the night. Patients commonly feel they sleep "lightly" and may have multiple nighttime awakenings with difficulty returning to sleep.

While widespread pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances are the defining symptoms of the syndrome, fibromyalgia is associated with many other symptoms. Disordered thinking (cognitive disturbances) is often referred to as "fibro fog." Patients describe difficulty with attention and completing tasks, as well as a general sense of being in a fog.

Depression and anxiety are present in 30%-50% of patients at the time of diagnosis with fibromyalgia. Headaches are present in more than half of patients. Patients also may have a variety of poorly understood pain symptoms, including abdominal pain, dry eyes, dry mouth, chest wall pain, pelvic pain, and bladder symptoms, heart palpitations, numbness and tingling, multiple allergies and chemical sensitivities, weight gain, and others.

The physical examination is remarkable for tenderness in specific anatomic locations, such as the back of the neck where the neck muscles connect to the skull. There are 18 such locations, which are referred to as fibromyalgia tender points. In the past, studies required patients to have 11 out of a possible 18 fibromyalgia tender points in order to be included in a scientific study on fibromyalgia, but this definition of fibromyalgia has changed in the past few years.

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Published: November 07

Fibromyalgia attacked my body more than 10 years ago after knee surgery. I was in a wheelchair for about six months, and I used a cane for another six months. I did not even know how to walk anymore. I fought the fibromyalgia with a lot of pain pills and tears. I was on so many medications that it damaged my stomach lining. Learning to break the cycle wasn't easy because it was painful. It caused tiredness and depression. To this day, I am no longer on meds, and I live a new life with a new career. I have no more depression. It tries to creep in, but I fight it off through prayer. I have bowel problems, this pain that pain, etc., etc., etc. I find that when I help others and talk about it, it brings hope to others. Learning to stop the cycle is a battle. But there is hope.

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Comment from: nanarae, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: March 31

My fibromyalgia began after a strep infection right after Hurricane Andrew. All my doctors were "blown away" and the only way to check what I thought was a bad cold was waiting in a triage line outside of a hospital- so I didn"t get it checked. A few weeks after my bad cold", I came down with rheumatic fever and was in intense pain and had incredible fatigue for weeks. My blood lab tests were through the roof. The pain/fatigue never really subsided, and I felt awful and struggled at work all year. My doctor thought I had rheumatoid arthritis. The following summer I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. That was almost 22 years ago, and my life has been full of pain, fatigue, and tears. I am just barely able to work (teacher) and I hate to give in and quit. My life has been greatly impacted and limited as a result of fibromyalgia.

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