Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a form of arthritis that affects nearly five percent of the population. Most of those suffering from the disease are women. Though it is considered a member of the arthritis family because its primary symptom is musculoskeletal pain, it is believed that the cause of fibromyalgia is within the nervous system that regulates response to pain. FMS is chronic and those with the condition continue to live with its effects.
Fibromyalgia initially presents with similar symptoms to the flu. Many just presume they are ill and expect the fatigue and muscle aches to go away. Although some patients may have a low-grade temperature, fever is not a symptom of fibromyalgia, unlike with the flu. Once the symptoms persist beyond three months and pain is consistent in the four quadrants of the body, fibromyalgia syndrome is diagnosed.
Pain is the number one complaint of those with fibromyalgia. The pain is severe and spread throughout the body, affecting muscles, joints and ligaments. It can feel like a constant ache and bring on stiffness. Burning sensations have also been reported by those with FMS. Fibromyalgia pain can be worse at some times more than others, but it never really goes away. Physical exertion can increase the pain for an extended period.
Fatigue is a constant problem for those with FMS. Patients with FMS have difficulty getting enough of stage 4 deep sleep and are often prescribed medications (muscle relaxants, anti-depressants) to help them sleep better. Someone with FMS will rarely feel rested, even with medication. Exhaustion often occurs to the point where it can interfere with their work, home and social life. Mental and physical stress can aggravate a "flareup," a time period when the fatigue (and pain) is more debilitating than usual.
Sensitivity is the key for most with fibromyalgia who feel this both mentally and physically. Gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are very common, as is irritable bladder syndrome. Anxiety and depression plague many with FMS either as a symptom or because of the constant symptoms. While exercise can help the fibromyalgia patient, there is a fine line before too much can irritate symptoms.
Both migraine and muscle headaches occur often. Cognitive problems, such as forgetfulness (called "fibrofog") and difficulty concentrating are not unusual for those with FMS, as are dizzy spells and dry mouth and eyes. Many with fibromyalgia also feel the symptoms of overlapping conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, Raynaud's syndrome and other forms of arthritis such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Restless leg syndrome (which causes periodic movements during sleep) is another condition often afflicting those with FMS.