What is Fibromyalgia

If you are here, you probably have a fair idea! But then again, if you have Googled it you may also be confused. As a Support Group, we feel as frustrated as you with so many different descriptions, lists of symptoms, different diagnostic criteria, which all vary depending what Country you live in ……

What doesn’t change is our support!

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, un-refreshing sleep, memory and mood issues, migraines, headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain and spinal cord process painful and non-painful signals.

Women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men.

While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a variety of medications or natural supplements for some, can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation, stress-reduction measures and diet may also help. Learning to “self manage” by attending pain programmes can help in the long-term management of fibromyalgia. Joining your local support group can help with isolation. It’s always good to hear from people experiencing the same thing as you are, it helps validate what you are feeling.

  • Widespread Pain: The hallmark symptom of fibromyalgia is chronic pain that affects multiple areas of the body. This pain is often described as burning, cramping, stabbing and debilitating which can fluctuate or become worse depending on what you do during the day. Migraines and headaches are common along with neck and shoulder pain. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.

  • Fatigue: People with fibromyalgia often experience persistent fatigue and a lack of energy, even after getting adequate rest. This fatigue can interfere with daily activities and lead to difficulties in concentration and memory, commonly referred to as “fibro fog.”

  • Sleep disturbances: Having a good night’s sleep can be difficult when you are in a lot of pain. Getting comfortable and having the right mattress and pillow becomes a task on its own. You can find yourself waking up in the morning more exhausted and frustrated from lack of sleep.

  • Cognitive difficulties: A symptom commonly referred to as “fibro fog” impairs the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks. It can be difficult to have a conversation, read that book you wanted to read or concentrate on what someone is saying to you. It’s not like that all the time but don’t worry if it does happen.

  • Depression and Anxiety: When you have a chronic illness, life can change. You may find you don’t have the support you once had or that you are unable to work the hours that you could before or maybe you just can’t work anymore. That’s a lot for anyone to cope with, so sometimes we need help and finding the right person to talk to like a psychologist, may give you the tools to help you through the tough times.

There are some other symptoms like interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, joint pain, nerve pain, hormonal inconsistencies, allodynia and peripheral neuropathy, bright lights, loud noises, dry eyes, that you may be experiencing which can exacerbate your pain and management.

Assessment or Diagnosis

Your first visit will probably be your local GP who will send you to have a series of blood tests, or you may need x-rays, scans or an MRI as well. It does take time and if you can have a friend, partner or family member help you, it could make things a little easier while being assessed. It’s time consuming and frustrating as you want the answers now. Unfortunately, there is not one single test, as there are a lot of diseases that need to be ruled out before a diagnosis can be made.

The doctor will want a thorough history. Was there an event that you know of that could have started your illness? How long have you been experiencing this amount of pain? What other symptoms are you experiencing? It’s important as sometimes diseases overlap, so be prepared.

One important thing that most of us have found through experience is that we have to keep track of everything. Even when you feel exhausted, write down what the doctor has told you and never be afraid to ask questions. You can ask the doctor to write it down for you especially if you are having memory issues or are feeling overwhelmed.

Your GP may refer you to a Rheumatologist for a formal diagnosis which is important especially if you are working. From experience, most Rheumatologists won’t write a medical report for you, but they will send a letter to your GP advising of their findings and diagnosis. You may need confirmation from your GP to commence a WorkCover claim, apply for the DSP or the NDIS, or a claim on your Salary Continuance Insurance.

For more information on diagnosis and testing see: https://fibromyalgiaaustralia.org.au/ patients/understanding-diagnosis-2/