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Fibromyalgia: Symptoms and Diagnosis

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

Sometimes, symptoms of fibromyalgia begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.

Common symptoms of fibromyalgia — also known as fibromyalgia syndrome or FMS — may include:

  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Concentration and memory problems — known as “fibro fog”
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Morning stiffness
  • Numbness, and tingling in hands, arms, feet, and legs
  • Tender points

Women are much more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men. Many people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression.

While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a variety of medications can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction measures also may help.

Diagnosis for fibromyalgia

On average, it takes five years for a person with fibromyalgia to get an accurate diagnosis. Some people go from doctor to doctor without receiving a medical diagnosis for their fibromyalgia symptoms. Many wonder if their painful symptoms are simply imagined.

There are no scientific measures, such as laboratory tests or X-rays, that “prove” you have fibromyalgia. In the past, millions of fibromyalgia patients were misdiagnosed as having depression, inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid or lupus, chronic myofascial pain, or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Most laboratory tests are not very useful by themselves for diagnosing fibromyalgia. Your doctor will come to a diagnosis after doing a physical exam and discussing your symptoms with you. The reason for this is that a diagnosis to large extent is based on the way you feel. For instance, even though your doctor may notice tender points during the physical exam, you still need to tell him or her about the pain you feel in those areas.

Your doctor will use a few lab tests to make sure you don’t have a more serious medical condition. These tests can probably be done during one visit to a lab.

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