For centuries, fibromyalgia was a mystery illness. Although it’s been studied since the late 1800s, the condition wasn’t even named until the 1970s. Theories about the cause of fibromyalgia and what symptoms were truly caused by it were thrown around for decades, but the majority of research was only confirmed in recent decades.
Because many of the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia aren’t visible, they eluded researchers for years. But with the help of modern medicine and technology, people are now becoming more familiar with common signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia and how it can be treated.
One of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia is muscle pain. People who are afflicted with fibromyalgia usually describe the pain as a dull ache that constantly radiates from the muscles. Diagnostic criteria stipulates that widespread pain, which is pain felt on both sides of the body as well as above and below the waist, as being one of the telltale signs of fibromyalgia.
Additionally, certain spots called tender points become more painful when pressure is applied. Tender points can most commonly be found in these areas:
- The back of the head
- The top of the shoulders
- Between the shoulder blades
- The upper chest
- The sides on the hips
- The outer elbows
- The front of the neck
- The inner knee
- The top of the hips
Tender points will vary from person to person and, like most of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, will come and go from time to time. For instance, the back of the head may be a tender point for someone, but that pain may last for a few weeks, dissipate and then return a few weeks later.
Constant fatigue and trouble sleeping are also signs of fibromyalgia. Many people who have this condition often feel tired or sleepy even after they’ve had a good night’s sleep. To most people, a good night’s sleep consists of 7-9 hours of sleep, but to people with fibromyalgia, a good night’s sleep may consist of 10-12 hours of sleep.
Sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, are also characteristic of fibromyalgia and, along with the muscle pain and tenderness, can make it difficult to sleep. Some studies have suggested that sleep disturbances may even increase the risk of developing fibromyalgia in women.
One of the most telltale signs of fibromyalgia is sensory sensitivity, which includes sensitivity to the following:
- Temperature changes
- Pressure changes
Those with fibromyalgia can also experience vision problems such as a rapid decline in vision or difficulty driving at night. This sensory sensitivity is an overall part of the neurological and cognitive issues that those with fibromyalgia can have.
In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, it was concluded that those with fibromyalgia display a greater dysfunction in certain cranial nerves than those without the condition. It was also concluded that those with fibromyalgia were more likely to have sensory abnormalities and neurological symptoms such as photophobia, tingling arms and legs, and weakness.
Physical Symptoms And Emotional Signs
Although there aren’t many visible symptoms of fibromyalgia, there are some physical signs that are indicative of this condition. These physical signs include:
- Temporary hair loss
- Mottled skin
- Pronounced ridges on the nails
- Nails that curve under
Those with fibromyalgia will also scar or bruise easily and may be more prone to developing ingrown hairs, split cuticle and non-cancerous tumors known as lipomas.
On the other side of the spectrum, some of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are the symptoms that you can’t see – emotions. People who have fibromyalgia tend to be very emotional. They may cry a lot or cry easily, experience frequent panic attacks, or suffer from anxiety or depression.
Other Common Symptoms
Internally, many people with fibromyalgia also experience digestive, abdominal and reproductive issues such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Menstrual problems or PMS
- Frequent urination
It’s also common for people with this condition to experience heart-related symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat and pain that feels like a heart attack.
Is It Really Fibromyalgia?
While this may seem like a long list of signs and symptoms, keep in mind that the symptoms of fibromyalgia will vary from person to person. Some people may experience emotional, digestive or sleeping issues while others may not.
In fact, some people may display a majority of these symptoms and not even have fibromyalgia at all. A lot of these signs and symptoms do overlap with those of other conditions and illnesses so it can be tough to pinpoint fibromyalgia as the definitive cause.
To add to the confusion, fibromyalgia can also coexist with other conditions, such as Sjogren’s disease, which makes it difficult to sort out the symptoms. The only way to positively identify fibromyalgia as the cause of your symptoms is to seek a diagnosis from a doctor.