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Fibromyalgia is more than a few aches and soreness around your body. Its overwhelming characteristic is long-standing pain throughout the body that is often described as a deep, radiating ache. The pain can increase with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety, and stress. It can sometimes improve throughout the day and get worse later in the evening.

Where Does It Hurt?

For the pain to be considered “widespread” and related to fibromyalgia, it must occur in all four quadrants of the body—above and below the waist and on both sides of the body. Fibromyalgia is often associated with “tender points,” various points on the body that are sensitive to firm pressure. Since 1991, fibromyalgia has been diagnosed using 18 tender points located all over the body. This diagnostic method was often criticized because it did not account for other symptoms unrelated to pain, such as fatigue or cognitive problems. The diagnostic criteria were updated in May 2010 to be inclusive of all symptoms.

Fatigue & Fibromyalgia

Along with pain, a majority of fibromyalgia sufferers have sleep disorders that cause chronic fatigue to the point of exhaustion. Some experts believe that fibromyalgia prevents a person from entering the restorative part of the sleep process, which is one of the main characteristics of insomnia. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome have also been associated with fibromyalgia-related fatigue.

Cognitive and Physical Symptoms

Fibromyalgia has also been known to cause cognitive problems, such as difficulty concentrating or remembering information. This is known as the “fibro fog.” Physical symptoms can include tingling or numbness, headaches, dizziness, and digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

There is no known cause for fibromyalgia, but preliminary research suggests genetics are involved. And studies have found abnormal levels of several brain chemicals that are common among people with fibromyalgia: Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, Tryptophan, an amino acid that helps make serotonin, Substance P, a protein involved in transmitting pain signals from the nerves to the brain.

Fibromyalgia Treatment Options

For mild fibromyalgia suffers, symptoms can go away with simple distressing and lifestyle changes. Studies show that improved fitness, especially aerobic exercise, can relieve fibromyalgia symptoms. Several other options have been successful to varying degrees: dietary changes, pain medications, massage and acupuncture. More Fibromyalgia Resources Fibromyalgia pain, sleeplessness, and fatigue can drastically affect the quality of your life. This disorder has many myths about it; that’s why getting the right information is so important. Visit the Fibromyalgia Learning Center for more information. Learn how doctors are now diagnosing fibromyalgia. The process was updated in May 2010. Read about alternative treatments that can ease fibromyalgia symptoms.

Diagnosing fibromyalgia is the first step toward finding pain relief.

Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose. In fact, for many people it can take years. But getting that diagnosis can be a turning point in your path to treatment. By understanding how fibromyalgia is diagnosed, you may be able to reach that point a little sooner. For instance, you may need to find a specialist who is familiar with your condition.

Why fibromyalgia can be challenging to diagnose

There are a number of reasons why diagnosing fibromyalgia can be difficult. Doctors often need to rule out other conditions first. Fibromyalgia can mimic other conditions. Seemingly unrelated symptoms may lead your doctor to suspect other diseases. Doctors often test for other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, and mononucleosis before reaching a fibromyalgia diagnosis. X-rays or blood tests can't be used to diagnose fibromyalgia.

Since there are no tests that can determine whether or not you have fibromyalgia, your doctor needs to rely solely on your symptoms. And these symptoms often vary from person to person and from day to day. It’s important to tell your doctor about your symptoms so he or she understands the pain you’re feeling.

Not all doctors have diagnosed and treated fibromyalgia before. Although fibromyalgia is not a rare condition, some doctors are more experienced with it than others. So, it is important to find a doctor with experience of making the fibromyalgia diagnosis and treating the condition. Rheumatologists, neurologists, and pain management specialists frequently diagnose and treat fibromyalgia.

Guidelines to help your doctor diagnose fibromyalgia

There are guidelines that can be very helpful in the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. 

In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology published the following criteria:

Widespread pain above and below the waist, on both the right and left sides of your body, and in the axial skeleton (your skull, spine, rib cage, and the bones in your throat and ears) for at least 3 months Tenderness or pain in 11 of the 18 “tender points” on your body.

Based on these guidelines, your doctor may perform a tender points exam. Your doctor will do this by applying pressure to these 18 points and counting how many you find tender. In 2010, the American College of Rheumatology published a new set of preliminary guidelines. These guidelines include a widespread pain index that assesses the number of painful body regions, and a scale that assesses the severity of symptoms such as fatigue, sleep problems, comprehension problems, and others in the body. By using one or both of these sets of guidelines, along with tests to rule out other possible conditions, it is possible for your doctor to make a fibromyalgia diagnosis. So if you think you may have fibromyalgia, talk to your doctor about what steps you can take toward an accurate diagnosis

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