Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a name given to a group of symptoms marked by generalised pain and muscle stiffness. These symptoms can be felt in all different areas of the body.
Extreme fatigue (tiredness) and sleep problems are also common in fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia does not cause inflammation or damage to the painful areas, but seems to be due to an over-active pain system. Fibromyalgia is different to polymyalgia rheumatica, a type of arthritis in which symptoms are felt more in the muscles.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are:

  • pain; usually aching, stiffness and tiredness of muscles. Pain may be worst after rest (eg. first thing in the morning) or after activity
  • extreme fatigue (tiredness), making it difficult to do your normal daily activities
  • poor sleep
  • problems with concentration and memory
  • irritable bowel (diarrhoea, stomach pain).

What causes it?

It is not known what causes fibromyalgia. It may be more common in people who have:

  • inflammatory arthritis (for example, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • an illness, such as a virus (or following an illness or infection)
  • pain from an injury or trauma
  • emotional stress and depression.

For many people fibromyalgia starts without any obvious cause. Extensive research suggests that the body may become extra sensitive in the way it signals and processes pain in people with fibromyalgia.

How is it diagnosed?

Fibromyalgia can be very difficult to diagnose. It does not cause any inflammation or damage. Even the painful muscles have been shown to look and function normally. As such there are no blood tests, x-rays or scans that can test for fibromyalgia. Your doctor or rheumatologist (arthritis specialist) will look for a number of signs that are typical of fibromyalgia. These include widespread pain for more than three months and widespread tenderness of the body.