most misunderstood illnesses affecting upwards of five million Americans every year. Characterized by musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, memory and mood issues, fibromyalgia amplifies pain sensations by affecting the way the brain processes pain signals. While fibromyalgia can affect men, between eighty and ninety percent of those diagnosed are women; often during the onset of middle age. Sometimes symptoms can appear after a physical trauma, surgery, infection, or other significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms can surface gradually, accumulating over time with no single triggering event. While exact causes are still being studied, many researchers believe that repeated nerve stimulation causes the brain to increase its production of certain chemicals that signal pain. The brain’s pain receptors in turn develop a memory of the pain, becoming more sensitive and over-reactive to the already increased pain signals.
- Widespread pain: Often described as a constant dull ache that has persisted for at least three months throughout the body, above and below the waist.
- Fatigue: Sleep is often interrupted by pain, making a good night’s rest harder to achieve. This leads to a sustained fatigue even with increased durations of sleep. This can also lead to other sleeping disorders such as restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
- Cognitive difficulties: Often referred to as “fibro fog”, the constant pain that fibromyalgia induces makes it harder to focus, pay attention or concentrate on mental tasks at home and at work.
- Migraines and headaches: Due to the constant pain and the stress fibromyalgia raises it is understandable to learn that many sufferers also experience severe headaches and migraines.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: While a direct link has not been established, fibromyalgia causes undue stress and anxiety which can easily upset digestive systems leading to irritable bowel syndrome.