Pain is the definitive symptom of fibromyalgia, but it can present itself in different ways, and in different parts of the body. Some people complain of constant stabbing pain throughout their entire body, while others experience a duller form of continuous aching. Alternately, fibromyalgia pain can be localized to one or more areas of the body, or it can seem to cluster around multiple “pain centers.”
2. Sensitivity to Touch
There are two medical terms which cover the increased sensitivity to touch that most fibromyalgia patients experience: hyperesthesia and hyperalgesia. Hyperesthesia describes an increased sensitivity to the sensory input of touch; for example, being under a light blanket may make you feel as though you’re trapped under a heavy lead weight. Hyperalgesia, on the other hand, describes an increase in pain sensation; for instance, you might stub your toe on a table leg, only to feel an excrutiating and throbbing pain for hours or days afterwards.
3. Environmental Sensitivity
People with fibromyalgia typically experience sensory abnormalities that go beyond sensitivity to touch. They are often strongly affected by environmental influences – even ones that seem minor to most other people. Such symptoms usually involve the patient’s senses of smell, sound and sight.
4. Muscle & Joint Stiffness
Fibromyalgia can also cause feelings of stiffness in muscles and joints. While it’s normal to experience these types of sensations after periods of strenuous physical activity, people with fibromyalgia develop muscle and joint stiffness for no immediately apparent reason. Like fibromyalgia pain, this stiffness can be generalized throughout the body, or it might affect one or more localized muscle or joint groups.
5. Muscle Spasms
Minor muscle spasms are something most people experience from time to time. However, fibromyalgia patients tend to experience extreme spasms, even after medical investigations uncover no root physical cause of the problem. Muscles seem to go into spasms spontaneously; sometimes, one or more specific muscles is affected again and again. In other cases, the patient finds it impossible to predict where the next spasm will strike, since it could happen almost anywhere and at just about any time.
Chronic fatigue and exhaustion also occur in a large percentage of fibromyalgia patients. Doctors believe it has two root causes. First, the fibromyalgia syndrome itself seems to drain patients of energy, even if they aren’t overexerting themselves physically or mentally. In other words, fatigue and exhaustion are core symptoms of the condition, and occur for no other reason.
7. Trouble Concentrating
Memory and concentration also seem to be affected by fibromyalgia, though researchers aren’t quite sure whether this is part of the condition’s chronic fatigue and exhaustion syndrome, or whether it has different causes altogether. What is known is that the patient’s short-term memory can be noticeably compromised. Patients have a hard time retaining information, recalling newly learned facts and skills, and tend to find it very difficult to sustain concentration for an extended period of time.
8. Chronic Headaches
Many fibromyalgia patients report experiencing persistent headaches or migraines, which can be very severe and debilitating. Headache pain usually presents as a feeling of constant pressure or throbbing affecting the cranium and/or the temples. It is also common for headache pain to seem to extend further down the body, into the neck, shoulders and even the upper back.
9. Bowel Troubles
Fibromyalgia can also cause bowel disturbances, putting the patient at risk of developing a condition known as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. In fact, fibromyalgia and IBS have very high comorbidity rates, suggesting that there is indeed a definitive link between the two. From a general standpoint, the muscle stiffness and generalized pain caused by fibromyalgia often cause patients difficulty in passing bowel movements. Over time, impacted fecal matter becomes even more difficult to clear, which can lead to reliance on and overuse of laxatives, which itself can cause further complications.
From an emotional and psychological standpoint, people with fibromyalgia are at increased risk of developing chronic depression. In all likelihood, this depression results from having to deal with constant pain, loss of sleep, lack of energy, and being forced to give up activities the patient once enjoyed. As with fibromyalgia headaches, researchers aren’t sure whether the proverbial chicken or the proverbial egg comes first; depression may not be the result of a patient’s will wearing down over time, but rather, they could be caused independently, through changes in brain chemistry.