Fibromyalgia is a long-standing condition that causes pain all over the body. It is usually a lifelong condition, although there are treatments that help to relieve pain and make living with the symptoms much easier. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome (FMS), which means it can cause a collection of symptoms. Alongside pain, these include tiredness, headaches, bowel symptoms (bloating, constipation, diarrhoea), difficulty concentrating and remembering, sleep disturbance, muscle and joint stiffness and increased sensitivity to pain. Symptoms may wax and wane, so the aims of treatment are to keep most symptoms at bay, and reduce the severity of symptoms if you get a flare-up. Fibromyalgia can go hand-in-hand with other conditions, including depression and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS).
It can be difficult to diagnose as many of the symptoms can belong to a number of conditions or may be mild and put down to expected aches and pains in life. The cause of fibromyalgia is not clearly understood. It is more common in women and can occur at any age. In some, it may relate to significant stressful events such as physical injuries or the death of a loved one, but there is evidence genetics also play a part. Studies show people with fibromyalgia have changes to their pain messaging system between the brain, spinal cord and nerves from the spine to the limbs, trunk and head. It might be worth keeping a diary so you can identify trigger factors that make symptoms worse and avoiding where possible, or doing more of what can help. This includes treating body and mind – exercising improves mobility and reduces pain, and it releases endorphins in the body to make you feel better mentally. Investing time in rest and relaxation can also help. Some people report certain foods and stress as triggers, others find it hard to pinpoint a pattern.
Pain and stiffness associated with inflammation around muscles, ligaments, soft tissues and joints can be alleviated to some extent by over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or aspirin. A warm bath or hot compresses can also be soothing on hot spots of pain or inflammation. For more debilitating pain, opioid-based pain relievers containing codeine such as co-codamol may also be helpful. For more severe pain, your doctor may be able to prescribe alternatives on prescription.
You may be fit for work depending on your occupation and the severity of your symptoms.
If you have bothersome symptoms of pain, tiredness, difficulty sleeping or bowel symptoms, you should discuss this with your doctor in a routine appointment. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and, if you are comfortable, examine you. Depending on the possible diagnosis, blood tests, urine tests, or imaging (ultrasound, X-ray, CT scan) could be carried out, or you may be referred to a specialist department. The doctor may also prescribe some medication to help with your symptoms.