By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Based on fulfilling 11 out of the 18 tender points, fibromyalgia affects around 2% of adult Americans. However, in 2010 the 1990 American College of Rheumatology’s tender points were taken out of the diagnosis procedure. When this is considered, fibromyalgia symptoms are seen in about 10% of American adults.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
The symptoms of fibromyalgia syndrome include:-
irritable bowel syndrome
inability to get refreshing sleep
waking up tired and stiff
developing cognitive disturbances including lack of concentration and clumsiness, dizziness etc.
The condition affects muscles, tendons and ligaments. There is, in addition, extreme sensitivity to pain. The condition is termed as a syndrome because it is a collection of symptoms rather than a specific symptom alone. Although 9 out of 10 people diagnosed are women, men also get this disorder.
Waxing and waning of symptoms
The symptoms of pain tend to wax and wane and many patients have sore muscles as the classical manifestation of fibromyalgia.
Studies have suggested that increased pain sensitivity in fibromyalgia is due to problems in the pain signalling pathways in the brain and the spinal cord. This is called neural sensitization and most patients complain of increased pain sensitivity.
Patients with fibromyalgia often experience flare ups in response to weather, stress, bouts of anxiety, depression or bright lights and noise.
Studies using Functional MRI scans of the brain have shown that patients experiencing these flare ups are not making up the pain but actually have changes in their brain neural mechanisms.
Brain scans show increased blood flow to areas that are normally associated with a pain response during flare ups. These blood flow changes are common in both normal persons and fibromyalgia patients.
However, fibromyalgia patients’ brains respond with alteration of blood flow at much lower levels of pain stimulus than normal persons.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Aug 4, 2013