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Fibromyalgia Basics

Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Fibromyalgia means widespread pain, but it causes a slew of other symptoms that can be debilitating and make it difficult to get through the day. Here’s the lowdown:

Pain All Over – People describe fibromyalgia pain as deep muscular aching, throbbing, shooting, stabbing, or intense burning. Muscle groups used the most may hurt more. In addition, the severity of regional pains can make your fibromyalgia symptoms worse.

Fatigue – Exhaustion is one of the most incapacitating fibromyalgia symptoms. You may feel as though your arms and legs are weighed down by concrete blocks and your body may be so drained of energy that every task is an effort.

Sleep Difficulties – This symptom doesn’t just pertain to problems falling asleep. Repeat arousals prevent you from reaching deep, restorative sleep, so you wake up feeling as though you have been hit by a Mack truck. An overnight sleep study may show symptoms of repeat arousals, but a specific sleep disorder may not be found.

Brain Fog (fibrofog) – Trouble concentrating, retaining new information, and word-finding are common fibromyalgia symptoms that interfere with everyday function. You may be easily distracted and this symptom appears to correspond to the severity of pain (as though the brain is consumed by the pain, limiting your ability to perform cognitive tasks).

Morning Stiffness – Aside from waking up sore and achy with fibromyalgia, the muscles are stiff and it’s an uphill battle to just get moving in the morning. Your whole body is tight and this symptom feels as though your muscles turned into dried leather during the night. Warm water and gentle stretching usually help, but if you stop moving during the day, your muscles may freeze right back up again.

Muscle Knots, Cramping, Weakness – No matter how much you try to relax your muscles, they may feel tense and contain rope-like knots called myofascial trigger points. Trigger points cause more fibromyalgia pain and lead to other symptoms, such as muscle cramping and weakness.

Digestive Disorders – Constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, gas and bloating, irritable bowel, and nausea represent symptoms found in roughly 40 to 70 percent of fibromyalgia patients. Acid reflux and a slowed digestion are also common.

Headaches/Migraines – Recurrent tension headaches or migraines are present in 50 to 70 percent of fibromyalgia patients. Headache symptoms are usually rated as severe, occur at least twice a week, and often have a migraine component. The source of this head pain is partly due to trigger points in the shoulder, neck, and head muscles.

Jaw Pain – Temporomandibular joint dysfunction syndrome causes tremendous jaw-related face and head pain, and it affects one-quarter of people with fibromyalgia. Typically, the symptoms are related to the muscles and ligaments surrounding the jaw joint and not necessarily the joint itself.

Balance Problems – Balance confidence is greatly reduced in people with fibromyalgia. Ringing in the ears and dizziness are also common symptoms and may be linked to a reduced functioning of the inner ear that helps control balance. Walking patterns and dexterity are altered, and the odds of falling are increased.

Itchy/Burning Skin – Your skin may look normal but feel as though you have a bad sunburn. Or your skin may have itchy red bumps similar to hives. Elevated levels of immune system irritants have been found in the skin and there is also an area in your brain to regulate “itch”… but it’s not functioning properly in fibromyalgia.

Sensory Sensitivities – Lights, sounds, odors, and other sensory sensations may annoy you and make your pain worse. What could be causing these symptoms? Just as the pain signals entering your central nervous system are being amplified, researchers suspect that these other sensory inputs are being magnified as well.

Exercise Difficulties – Moderate intensity exercise can make your pain worse, at least in the beginning. This symptom may be partly caused by reduced muscle blood flow, and it’s compounded by the presence of painful, knotted muscles. Finding a level of activity that does not flare up your fibromyalgia pain is truly a balancing act.

Aggravating Factors

If you have other medical conditions that can flare up, this will also exacerbate your fibromyalgia symptoms. In addition, the following situations can make you feel worse: adverse weather (especially cold climates and rapid changes in barometric pressure), cold or drafty environments, hormonal fluctuations (premenstrual and menopausal states), poor quality sleep, stress, depression, anxiety, and over-exertion (you need to pace yourself).

Aside from enhanced sensory sensitivities, certain foods and some prescription medications may also intensify your symptoms. If this weren’t bad enough, the following conditions can also make fibromyalgia worse:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Dizziness
  • Painful periods
  • Irritable bladder/interstitial cystitis
  • Profuse sweating
  • Chemical sensitivities
  • Vulvodynia (vulvar pain)/prostate pain
  • Difficulty focusing eyes
  • Dry/burning eyes and mouth
  • Ringing and pain in the ears