Chronic Fatigue Conditions Cause Fibromyalgia

Diagram of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by fatigue and widespread pain in muscles, ligaments and tendons. Researchers are unsure what causes fibromyalgia, though it is linked to stress, depression and anxiety. While other illnesses–such as chronic fatigue syndrome and muscle pain syndrome–also include symptoms of fatigue and muscle pain, fibromyalgia symptoms are unique in that they are suffered in parallel locations on the body.

Researchers at the American College of Rheumatology (2004) estimate that one in 50 Americans is affected by fibromyalgia. While most cases are diagnosed in women in their 20s and 30s, fibromyalgia can affect people of all ages, races and genders.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Some researchers believe fibromyalgia is hereditary, and that it is “triggered” by excess stress–either collective stress or a one-time intensely stressful event. Though depression has been strongly linked to fibromyalgia, it is not a cause or symptom.

As published in the journal “Neuroscientist” (2008), much fibromyalgia research points towards malfunctions within the central nervous system (CNS) as a cause of the disorder. Abnormal levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that transmit nerve signals in the brain) and/or hormone levels have also been reported in fibromyalgia patients.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Since the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, it’s diagnosed by reviewing the patient’s symptoms. The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are:

  • Chronic fatigue: For healthy people, a few days of rest can recharge a fatigued body and mind. People suffering from fibromyalgia, however, don’t recover after a few days of rest. The exhaustion experienced by people suffering from fibromyalgia is severe, often interfering with simple, daily activities. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are often co-morbid, with many CFS patients also suffering from fibromyalgia pain.
  • Sensitivity to pain: The central nervous system is constantly receiving information from the sensory system. Within the neurons of the CNS is a threshold that determines whether the CNS passes the information on to the brain based on signal strength. This helps ensure that the brain is not overly stimulated by minor, unimportant sensations. In cases of fibromyalgia, however, the threshold is lowered so drastically that small, minor signals that the brain would not normally receive are being passed through the CNS. These “misfires” then travel at such an amplitude and rate that the brain processes these as pain signals, leading to overwhelming sensations of chronic pain.

Fibromyalgia pain is generally widespread. Any part of the body may be experiencing pain at one time or another, but the most common sites of pain include the neck, back, shoulders and hands. The pain itself has been described as a deep throbbing, aching, stabbing and shooting pain. The intensity of the pain will vary over time, but for the most part, the pain is a constant presence. In addition to the pain, people with fibromyalgia may experience a tingling, numbing or burning sensation throughout their body.

Along with widespread pain and severe fatigue, people suffering from fibromyalgia may experience:

  • Chronic headaches and migraines
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Facial tenderness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Sensitive skin
  • Sensitivity to odors, bright lights and certain foods
  • Sleep problems
  • Vision problems.

If you’re experiencing any these symptoms on a regular basis, along with sensitivity to pain and chronic fatigue, you may be suffering from fibromyalgia. Your doctor can help you manage the symptoms and reach an accurate diagnosis.

Resources

Don L. Goldenberg, M.D. (2009). Clinical management of fibromyalgia. West Islip, NY, Professional Communications, Inc.

Deep Dive Media. (2010). Fibromyalgia statistics. Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.myfibro.com/fibromyalgia-statistics

Schweinhardt P, Sauro KM, Bushnell MC. (October 2008). “Fibromyalgia: a disorder of the brain?”. Neuroscientist. 14 (5): 415–21. doi:10.1177/1073858407312521. PMID 18270311.

University of Washington School of Medicine. (2010). Symptoms: Fibromyalgia. Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.orthop.washington.edu/uw/fibromyalgia/tabID__3376/ItemID__33/PageID__4/Articles/Default.aspx