10 Common Fibromyalgia Symptomsby Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate
Fibromyalgia is primarily thought of as a chronic pain illness, however, it is usually accompanied by many other symptoms as well. Although much of the pain and tenderness experienced with fibromyalgia is felt in the muscles and soft tissues, it is actually a central nervous system disorder resulting in abnormal pain processing.
Fibromyalgia pain is widespread, chronic, and can range in intensity from mild to profound. It affects different parts of the body at different times and may manifest itself as muscular aching, throbbing, burning, or shooting pain. It can also produce an all-over body ache, described by patients as feeling like they have the flu all the time.
Pain — widespread and long-term
Traditionally, a fibromyalgia diagnosis results from a patient experiencing pain in all four quadrants of the body — right and left sides, above and below the waist (although not necessarily all at the same time), and that the pain has lasted for at least three months.
Fatigue can be a difficult symptom to describe to others because everyone knows what it feels like to be tired. However, the fatigue of fibromyalgia is so much more than just being tired. It is a pervasive, all-encompassing exhaustion that can interfere with even the most basic and simple daily activities.
Research studies have shown that fibromyalgia patients spend little or no time in deep, stage-four sleep. Their deep sleep is repeatedly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity. Since this is the stage of sleep during which the body replenishes itself, fibromyalgia patients are not able to get restful, restorative sleep.
Fibromyalgia patients often report a number of cognitive functioning problems including memory loss, difficulty concentrating, slurred speech, transposing letters and numbers, inability to think of the word you’re looking for, and thinking one thing but saying or writing something different. Patients sometimes refer to this as “fibro-fog,” saying it feels like their brain is in a fog.
Most people with fibromyalgia report at least some degree of digestive disturbance. Typical problems include abdominal pain, bloating, excess gas, constipation, and/or diarrhea. Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that frequently overlaps with fibromyalgia.
Headaches and/or migraines
Chronic headaches and/or migraines frequently coexist with fibromyalgia. More than half of fibromyalgia patients report having some type of head pain. The most common types of head pain experienced are tension-type headaches and migraines.
In addition to having an increased sensitivity to pain, many fibromyalgia patients report a heightened sensitivity to a variety of sensory stimuli, such as touch, smell, sound, light, heat, and cold. Findings published in the journal “Arthritis & Rheumatology” suggest that brain abnormalities in response to non-painful sensory stimulation may cause the increased unpleasantness that fibromyalgia patients experience in response to daily visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation.
Depression and/or anxiety
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 20 percent of people with fibromyalgia also suffer from anxiety disorder or depression. Since both fibromyalgia and depression/anxiety are nervous system disorders and involve the dysregulation of some common neurotransmitters, it's not surprising that there may be some overlap.
Many fibromyalgia patients also report a variety of other symptoms and overlapping conditions, which may include allergies, impaired balance, dizziness, dry eyes and mouth, vision problems, environmental sensitivities, restless legs syndrome, skin sensitivities and rashes, itching, and sensitivity to foods and medications.