Could You Have Fibromyalgia?

Since there's no specific test that can confirm whether a person has fibromyalgia, physicians often must perform a variety of tests in order to rule out hypothyroidism and multiple sclerosis, among other conditions. The following are the top criteria that health-care professionals consider when making a fibromyalgia diagnosis.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

1. Persistent Pain. While headaches, facial muscle and chest pain, and intense menstrual cramping are among the symptoms of fibromyalgia, its key indicator is widespread soreness occurring in about 11 of 18 spots located on the neck, the upper and lower back, the arms, and the knees. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has determined that if such pain lasts more than three months and if a person exhibits heightened tenderness when a minimal amount of pressure is applied to these sites, there's a good chance that he or she has fibromyalgia.

2. Extreme Exhaustion. Fibromyalgia has been linked with restless leg syndrome and alpha wave interrupted sleep pattern, in which bursts of brain activity disrupt deep sleep. A team of researchers at NIAMS has observed that people with fibromyalgia share erratic sleeping and waking patterns with insomniacs; the team is currently studying whether techniques that help insomniacs achieve deep sleep can also help fibromyalgia patients.

3. Medical History. Because fibromyalgia seems to have no one definitive cause, the medical community is taking a spectrum of triggers into consideration. Several studies suggest that the disorder has a genetic component. The ACR has noted that an overabundance of substance P, a neurotransmitter that carries pain signals, is often present in the spinal fluid of fibromyalgia sufferers. People with lupus and severe forms of arthritis have been known to exhibit symptoms. Trauma, especially to the spine, and excessive physical, emotional, and mental stress have also been tied to the disorder.

Other signs of fibromyalgia include oversensitivity to light, odors, noise, touch, and temperature; numbness and/or tingling in the hands and feet; forgetfulness and an inability to concentrate; and depression and anxiety.

If you suspect you may have fibromyalgia, it's important to find a physician who is familiar with the disorder; a list of doctors can be found at the National Fibromyalgia Association's website. Remember, while there's no absolute cure for fibromyalgia, there are several therapies that may help manage and suppress the symptoms.