Usually it's easy to find out what's making kids sick. Common childhood conditions like strep throat and ear infections are pretty simple to diagnose with a throat swab or doctor's exam.
Yet when kids complain of vague symptoms, like fatigue, achiness, and difficulty sleeping, they could be experiencing any one of a number of common illnesses. One condition that's easy to overlook in children and teens is fibromyalgia, which causes pain in the muscles and soft tissues surrounding the joints.
Jackie Yencha is somebody who gets things done -- as much as possible. She has been coping with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue most of her life. But she pushed through college, got married, is raising two kids, and holds a top-level volunteer position with a fibromyalgia advocacy agency. She and her family even organize a charity golf tournament every year to honor her mother, who died of a rare cancer.
She'd like to do more than that -- but that's just not going to happen. Yencha is always fighting...
Fibromyalgia can be hard to spot in children because there are no tests to diagnose it and because it's much more common in adults. Most of the time fibromyalgia affects women over age 18. Even so, between 1% and 7% of children are thought to have fibromyalgia or similar conditions.
Fibromyalgia is part of a group of conditions collectively known as musculoskeletal pain syndrome (MSPS). In children, fibromyalgia is called juvenile primary fibromyalgia syndrome (JPFS). If a child also has arthritis or another disease related to the fibromyalgia, it's called juvenile secondary fibromyalgia syndrome.
Fibromyalgia in Teens and Children: What Causes It?
No one really knows what causes fibromyalgia. The condition tends to run in families, although no gene has been discovered yet. Researchers have linked fibromyalgia to a number of other health conditions, including immune, endocrine, psychological, and biochemical problems.
Just as fibromyalgia in adults is more likely to affect women, child and teen fibromyalgia occurs more often in girls than in boys. Most girls with the condition are diagnosed between ages 13 and 15.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia in Children and Teens
One of the main symptoms of child fibromyalgia is sore spots on the muscles. These spots hurt when pressure is put on them, which is why they're called "tender points."
To find these points, the doctor will press with his or her thumb on 18 areas that tend to be painful in people with fibromyalgia. Kids who have fibromyalgia will feel tenderness in at least five of these spots. They'll also have been experiencing aches and pains for at least three months.
The soreness can start in just one part of the body, but eventually it can affect other areas. Children with fibromyalgia have described the pain in many different ways, including stiffness, tightness, tenderness, burning, or aching.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia in teens and children include:
Difficulty sleeping and waking up tired
Anxiety and depression
Restless legs while sleeping
One of the many reasons why teen fibromyalgia is so frustrating is that the symptoms compound one another. For example, the pain of fibromyalgia makes it difficult to sleep. When kids can't sleep, they feel more tired during the day. Being tired makes the pain feel more severe. The symptoms become a cycle that is difficult for kids to escape.
Fibromyalgia can be so debilitating that it causes many kids with the condition to miss school an average of three days each month. Having fibromyalgia can also be socially isolating. Teens with fibromyalgia can have trouble making friends and may feel like they're unpopular because of their condition.