Fibromyalgia

Introduction

Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.

As well as widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia may also have:

  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • muscle stiffness
  • difficulty sleepingproblems with mental processes (known as “fibro-fog”) – such as problems with memory and concentration
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating

Treatment is available to ease some of its symptoms, although they’re unlikely to disappear completely.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but it’s thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) processes pain messages carried around the body.

It’s also suggested that some people are more likely to develop fibromyalgia because of genes inherited from their parents.

In many cases, the condition appears to be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event, such as:

  • an injury or infection
  • giving birth
  • having an operation
  • the breakdown of a relationship
  • the death of a loved one

Who’s affected?

Anyone can develop fibromyalgia, although it affects around seven times as many women as men. The condition typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50, but can occur in people of any age, including children and the elderly.

It’s not clear exactly how many people are affected by fibromyalgia, although research has suggested it could be a relatively common condition. Some estimates suggest nearly 1 in 20 people may be affected by fibromyalgia to some degree.

One of the main reasons it’s not clear how many people are affected is because fibromyalgia can be a difficult condition to diagnose. There’s no specific test for the condition, and the symptoms can be similar to a number of other conditions.

How fibromyalgia is treated

Although there’s currently no cure for fibromyalgia, there are treatments to help relieve some of the symptoms and make the condition easier to live with.

Treatment tends to be a combination of:

  • Medication – such as antidepressants and painkillers
  • Talking therapies – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)and counselling
  • Lifestyle changes – such as exercise programmes and relaxation techniques
  • Trigger point injections
  • Lignocaine infusion

Exercise in particular has been found to have a number of important benefits for people with fibromyalgia, including helping to reduce pain.