I’m in Pain – Do I Have Fibromyalgia?

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Probably not.  The kind of pain in found in fibromyalgia is distinctive in a couple of ways. For one, it’s probably the result of a process called central sensitization which refers to an upregulation of the pain producing pathways in the central nervous system. This upregulation creates both widespread pain, many different kinds of pain and other symptoms. In order to have FM you must be experiencing widespread pain and some other symptoms.

Widespread Pain –  Widespread pain is the most notable feature of FM. Pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist for you to be diagnosed with FM. The pain in FM tends to come in variety of flavors. Check out other types of pain that can occur in FM.

  • Muscle and soft tissue pain – the most common kind of pain in FM, widespread muscle and soft tissue pain can  show up as feelings of soreness, stiffness, sharp pain, deep aching pain or throbbing. It tends to be most evident in the upper body and can migrate from place to place.
  • Headaches / migraines – headaches, in particular tension headaches and migraines are common in FM. Tension headaches are usually characterized by a feeling of a tight band around ones head while migraines are more painful, often occur on one side of the head and can produce zigzag lines, aura’s and other vision changes. During a migraine you may become sensitive to sound and light.  Migraines, it should be noted, often go undetected, which is a pity given the effectiveness of the new round of migraine drugs. Find out if you might be experiencing migraines here.
  • Neuropathic Pain – derives from damaged nerves in the skin and perhaps elsewhere. Approximately 40% of FM patients have a condition called small fiber polyneuropathy which refers to damage to the small nerves in the skin which relay sensory and autonomic nervous system signals to the brain. This nerve damage shows up as sensations of tingling, numbness, burning, crawling, etc.
  • Gut pain – bloating, stomach pain, constipation…these are symptoms found in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which common in FM. if you experience these symptoms then changing your diet to reduce sugar and carbohydrate intake or irritating foods may help. Check out Health Rising’s Diet page.
  • Allodynia – when central sensitization really gets roaring it often shows up in allodynia – a very painful condition which occurs when our all powerful brain can turn the slightest touch of a hand, an object, or a cloth into a painful sensation.
  • Joint Pain – joints around the body can be affected. The pain is not from damage to the joints but comes from the muscles and tissues surrounding the joints. Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) – the joint at the base of the jaw – is a common joint effected.
  • Tender Points – are spots just under the skin found across the body which are often not painful until you press on them. Muscle spasms due to reduced blood and oxygen flows may be causing them.
  • Sensitivity to Lights, Odors and Noise – Some people with FM can find stimuli like light, odors and noise painful.

If these sounds familiar you may have fibromyalgia or FM. FM, however, is more than just a pain disease. It’s a multi-faceted disease that’s able to produce an astonishing array of symptoms. Other common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue – people with FM often experience substantial fatigue as well something called post-exertional malaise which results when exertion makes you more tired and causes your pain symptoms to flare.
  • Unrefreshing sleep – difficulty going to sleep, staying asleep and above all, a failure to achieve refreshing sleep is a very common symptom of FM. If you’ve ever woken up feeling like someone has battered you with a bat while asleep you can get some idea of what severe unrefreshing sleep is like.
  • Cognitive problems – Problems concentrating, thinking, following conversations, etc. are so common in FM that FM patients have a name for them – “fibro-fog”.
  • Depression and anxiety – given all the other stuff going on with FM it’s not surprising that depression and anxiety are common found as well.

Fibromyalgia, then, is a kind of all-purpose symptom producer. Besides causing widespread pain, it produces fatigue, problems with sleep, cognitive problems and sometimes depression and anxiety. If you’ve experienced that general array of symptoms for over three months you may have fibromyalgia.

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