Many people describe fibromyalgia as feeling like a persistent flu.
Key Characteristics of Fibromyalgia
Muscle pain, either throughout the body or only at certain points, is the primary symptom of fibromyalgia. It may range from mild discomfort to pain severe enough to limit work, social activities, and everyday tasks. Pain commonly occurs in the neck, upper back, shoulders, chest, rib cage, lower back, and thighs and may feel like a burning, gnawing, throbbing, stabbing, or aching sensation and may develop gradually. It sometimes seems worse when a person is trying to relax and is less noticeable during activity.
A related, key aspect of fibromyalgia is the presence of "tender points," muscles and tendons that are tender when pressed. Typically, tender points are located in the neck, back, knee, shoulder, elbow, and hip.
People with fibromyalgia also feel moderately to severely fatigued and have sleep problems, including insomnia. People with fibromyalgia may also experience other problems including headaches, memory or concentration problems, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Tender Points and Fibromyalgia
According to the American College of Rheumatology, for a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, you must have tenderness at a minimum of 11 of 18 specific "tender points" associated with the condition. Some health care providers diagnose fibromyalgia in patients who have fewer tender points but who otherwise have severe, widespread (meaning upper and lower body occurring on both right and left sides) pain symptoms that are present for at least three months.
Those who have fibromyalgia may have tenderness at any of several other points on the body as well.
Who Is Affected by Fibromyalgia?
Experts estimate that at least 5 million American adults have fibromyalgia. Of these, up to 90% are women. Fibromyalgia also seems to run in families, so a gene may be at least partly responsible for the condition. Most people with fibromyalgia begin to notice symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40, but children and older adults may also develop the condition.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Problems in the processing of pain by the brain and nerves is believed to be the underlying reason for fibromyalgia. However, experts do not know what causes this. There are several theories about possible causes or triggers. Inadequate sleep is a possible trigger. Another is suffering physical or emotional trauma. Some experts believe that an infection or other illness may play a part.