Fibromyalgia (or fibromyalgia syndrome, FMS) is a common condition that is thought to affect as many as 1 in 25 people, and more women than men. It causes pain, aching and stiffness in muscles, ligaments and tendons throughout the body. It may affect one part of the body or several different areas. It can be a difficult condition to diagnose as the symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions.
People with fibromyalgia are extremely sensitive to pain or physical pressure. The cause is not fully understood, but it is believed to be linked to changes in the way the body’s central nervous system processes pain.
How will it affect me?
Pain, extreme tiredness (fatigue) and sleep disturbance are the main symptoms of fibromyalgia. You may feel stiff and ache all over, while specific pain may be localised in a number of tender points for a period of time. Although fibromyalgia is not an inflammatory disease, most people feel the pain as aching, stiffness and tiredness in the muscles around the joints, particularly on waking in the morning. Other symptoms include headaches and concentration problems. Less commonly, fibromyalgia may lead to an irritable or uncomfortable bowel.
Many people find fatigue to be the most troublesome symptom. This can make it difficult to do many things, from climbing the stairs or doing household chores, to being able to go to work. It can also affect your personal and social life. You may find that sleep leaves you feeling unrefreshed. Research has shown that during sleep, people with fibromyalgia lose the particular phases of deep, restorative sleep that our bodies need. This can trigger a cycle of sleep disturbance and pain, which can in turn lead to a low mood, irritability or depression.
How is it treated?
There is no simple cure for fibromyalgia, but many people find effective ways to manage the symptoms. Your doctor will be able to treat your sleep disturbance, and may suggest antidepressant drugs. These can be effective for chronic pain – even if you do not have the depression that can accompany the condition – as they can help to restore a regular and sustaining sleep pattern.
Research has shown that aerobic exercise, such as swimming, improves fitness and can be effective in reducing pain and fatigue in people with fibromyalgia. Exercise can also help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, which is an important consideration, as excess weight can aggravate the condition.