What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that involves widespread muscle pain (myalgias) and joint pain (arthralgias). In some cases, the onset of fibromyalgia symptoms begins after a physically or emotionally traumatic event, such as a car accident; in other cases, symptoms start insidiously, gradually worsening over time.
Fibromyalgia is defined by the presence of the following symptoms lasting for at least 3 months with no evidence of joint damage, tissue damage, or inflammation:
- Diffuse muscle pain, both above and below the waist and on both sides of the body
Additional fibromyalgia symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Insomnia, sleep disturbances, or non-restorative sleep
- Irritable bowel syndrome or interstitial cystitis
- Abdominal pain, bloating, or nausea
- Headaches or jaw pain
- Sensitivity to odors, noise, or medications
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Muscle spasms or cramps
- Depression or anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating, cognitive impairment, or brain fog
The cause of fibromyalgia is not clear, but it is thought to be related to abnormal processing of pain signals in the nervous system, which ultimately leads to central sensitization (CS). CS involves continuous stimulation of the nervous system, which causes amplified pain sensations. CS is also associated with chronic pain progression due to an increased response to neurons in the central nervous system.
Factors that increase the risk of developing fibromyalgia include the following:
- Family history
While a specific gene has not been identified as a cause of fibromyalgia, it often runs in families.
- Psychological stress
Excess, prolonged stress can contribute to the development of chronic pain disorders, including fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is more common in women. Between 80 and 90 percent of individuals diagnosed with fibromyalgia are female.
Fibromyalgia can start at any age but is usually diagnosed in middle age.
- Preexisting conditions
Certain preexisting health conditions, such as obesity, lupus, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, increase the risk of fibromyalgia.