Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. It can affect anyone but is much more common in women than in men. It usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50. If you think you have FMS, visit your GP.

Symptoms of FMS

As well as widespread pain, people with FMS may also have:

  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • muscle stiffness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • problems with mental processes (known as "fibro-fog") – such as problems with memory and concentration
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating

Other symptoms

Other symptoms that people with FMS sometimes experience include:

In some cases, having the condition can lead to depression. This is because FMS can be difficult to deal with, and low levels of certain hormones associated with the condition can make you prone to developing depression.

When to see your GP

If you think you have FMS, visit your GP. Treatment is available to ease some of its symptoms, although they're unlikely to disappear completely.

The exact cause of FMS is unknown. It's thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body.

It's suggested that some people are may develop FMS because of genes inherited from their parents.

The condition often appears to be triggered by physically or emotionally stressful events, such as:

  • an injury or infection
  • giving birth
  • having an operation
  • the breakdown of a relationship 
  • the death of a loved one

Difficulty diagnosing FMS

It's unclear how many people are affected by FMS. Research suggests it could be quite a common condition. Some estimates suggest nearly one in 20 people may be affected to some degree.

Anyone can develop FMS, although it affects around seven times as many women as men.

The condition typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50. It can occur in people of any age, including children and the elderly.

One of the main reasons it's not clear how many people are affected is because FMS can be difficult to diagnose. There's no specific test for the condition. The symptoms can be similar to a number of other conditions.

Treatment for FMS

There is currently no cure for FMS. There are treatments to help relieve some of the symptoms and make the condition easier to live with.

Treatment tends to be a combination of:

  • lifestyle changes – such as exercise programmes and relaxation techniques
  • talking therapies – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling
  • medication – such as antidepressants and non-opioid painkillers

Exercise, in particular, has been found to have a number of important benefits for people with FMS, including helping to reduce pain.

Your GP will recommend the best treatment for you.

Support groups

Many people with FMS find that support groups provide an important network where they can talk to others living with the condition. There are various support groups available in Northern Ireland, including:

 

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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