How to Find Out if You Have Fibromyalgia

How to Find Out if You Have Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome affecting some 10 million Americans and 3-6% of people worldwide. Women are more predisposed — they comprise 75-90% of diagnoses — but men and children can also be affected, as can people from any ethnic group.

At Pinnacle Pain and Spine, interventional pain specialists Dr. Matthew Crooks and Dr. Stuart Rammell treat all manner of pain conditions, including fibromyalgia. Here’s what they want you to know about the condition and what you can do about it if you learn you have it.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, but its diagnosis is still taken skeptically in some circles. One prevailing myth is it’s a fad disease because it doesn’t show up on an X-ray, other imaging tests, or blood tests. 

But fibromyalgia appeared in the medical literature as early as 1824. Significant advances came in 1880 when physicians attributed a group of symptoms to it, and new criteria were established in 1972, when researchers clearly described the widespread pain and tender points characteristic of the condition.

What we know today is that fibromyalgia produces pain and stiffness in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout the body. Current thinking is that it fundamentally alters the way the brain processes pain signals, leading to increased pain sensations even in the absence of a pain trigger. 

Symptoms may develop gradually over time or be suddenly triggered by trauma, infection, or stress.

Pain and other common signs of fibromyalgia

The most common symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain. In fact, since the pain may affect the joints as well as other tissues, it was classified as a type of arthritis for many years. But while the pain of fibromyalgia is always present, the severity of symptoms can change daily, or even hourly. 

In addition to pain, other common symptoms include:

The tender points occur in predictable places on the body, and they're most often located just under the skin’s surface. It’s the fascia, the tissue that covers the muscles and joints, that leads to the pain, not the joints themselves.

People with fibromyalgia often experience two or more other chronic conditions. These include but aren’t restricted to:

Research is ongoing to determine why these conditions are often interlinked.

How to find out if you have fibromyalgia

Diagnosing fibromyalgia is often a process of trial and error because it doesn’t show up on an X-ray or other imaging test, and there’s no factor that’s identifiable from a blood test. It’s pretty much a diagnosis by ruling out any other potential cause. 

But researchers recently discovered patients living with fibromyalgia have abnormally low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine in their brains. This knowledge may lead to definitive tests down the road.

In the past, doctors would press on the 18 specific tender points (nine on each side) of the patient’s body to see how many of them produced a painful response. You had to have at least 11 painful spots to get a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

Updated guidelines, though, don’t require such an exam. Today, a doctor can diagnose fibromyalgia if you’ve had widespread musculoskeletal pain for more than three months with no evidence of another underlying condition that could cause it.

Treating fibromyalgia

Since there’s no cure for fibromyalgia, the goal of treatment is to relieve or control the symptoms associated with the condition. At Pinnacle Pain and Spine, we may recommend some combination of the following:

As we continue to learn more about the condition, we refine the treatment options to provide more comprehensive relief.

If you’ve been struggling with widespread pain and are looking for relief, it’s time to come into Pinnacle Pain and Spine for an evaluation with one of our pain specialists. Call us at any of our Arizona locations — Scottsdale, Chandler, or Fountain Hills — or send us a message online.

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