By Karen Lee Richards*
Fibromyalgia is best known as an illness that causes chronic, widespread body pain. Although pain is the predominate feature, there are four primary symptoms of fibromyalgia:
- Sleep disturbances
- Cognitive problems
Pain – Ranging in intensity from mild to profound, the pain of fibromyalgia tends to migrate, affecting different parts of the body at different times. The pain may manifest as an all-over, flu-like aching or a more localized throbbing, burning, stabbing or shooting pain. The pain and stiffness is often worse upon waking in the morning or after sitting/lying in one position for an extended period of time.
Fatigue – The fatigue of fibromyalgia is much more than just being tired from a busy day or a strenuous workout. It is a pervasive, all-encompassing exhaustion that can interfere with even the most basic daily activities.
Sleep disturbances – Most people with fibromyalgia have an associated sleep disorder that makes it difficult for them to get the deep, restorative sleep they need. As a result, they do not wake up feeling rested or refreshed. Studies have documented that the Stage 4 sleep of FM patients is repeatedly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity, limiting the amount of time they spend in deep, restorative sleep.
Cognitive problems – Often referred to as “fibro-fog,” the cognitive dysfunction associated with fibromyalgia may include forgetfulness, memory lapses, an inability to concentrate, confusion, transposing numbers or words, getting lost in familiar places and difficulty communicating effectively.
In addition to the primary symptoms, people with fibromyalgia may also experience:
- Digestive disturbances including abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea
- Numbness and tingling in extremities
- Dizziness, impaired balance and coordination
- Depression and anxiety
- Allergies, skin sensitivities and rashes
- Chemical and environmental sensitivities
Fibromyalgia Signs and Symptoms Checklist
[ ] Sleep disturbances (non-refreshing, non-restorative, awaking frequently)
[ ] Cognitive problems (impaired memory and concentration)
[ ] Fatigue, characterized as a profound loss of energy
[ ] Morning Stiffness
[ ] Headaches
[ ] Digestive disturbances (abdominal pain, bloating, gas)
[ ] Irritable bowel (constipation and/or diarrhea)
[ ] Irritable bladder (frequent and/or painful urination)
[ ] Numbness and tingling in extremities
[ ] Dizziness
[ ] Impaired balance and/or coordination
[ ] Depression
[ ] Anxiety
[ ] Allergies
[ ] Skin sensitivities and rashes
[ ] Alcohol intolerance
[ ] Low basal body temperature (below 97.6)
[ ] Dry eyes and/or mouth
[ ] Vision problems
[ ] Cold Sensitivity
[ ] Heat Sensitivity
[ ] Light Sensitiviy
[ ] Sound Sensitivity
[ ] Odors Sensitivity
[ ] Foods Sensitivity
[ ] Medications Sensitivity
In addition to the symptoms listed above, there are a number of other conditions that are also frequently associated with fibromyalgia. For a list of these conditions, see: Overlapping Conditions.
* Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE, the very first full-color, glossy magazine devoted to FM and other invisible illnesses. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, and then for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network.
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