LIFESTYLE
31/08/2018 09:46 BST

Fibromyalgia: Symptoms And Treatment Explained

It can cause widespread pain, described as 'aching or burning, from head to toe'.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition which can cause widespread pain and profound fatigue. The name is made up of “fibro” for fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments, “my” indicating muscles, and “algia” meaning pain.

The illness affects roughly 2% of the UK population, with more women being impacted than men. Those aged 45-60 are most commonly affected, although the condition can occur at any age.

Most recently, presenter Kirsty Young announced she was taking a break from ‘Desert Island Discs’ while she deals with symptoms of the chronic condition. Last year, Lady Gaga was hospitalised by “severe physical pain” caused by fibromyalgia, which forced her to cancel a gig in Brazil.

Max Mumby/Indigo via Getty Images
Kirsty Young

Symptoms

People with mild to moderate cases are usually able to lead a normal life with appropriate treatment. However if the symptoms are severe, it might impact on a person’s ability to hold down a job or enjoy a social life. 

In addition to widespread pain - described as “aching or burning, from head to toe” - people with fibromyalgia may experience:

:: increased sensitivity to pain

:: fatigue, which ranges from feeling tired to the exhaustion of a flu-like illness

:: muscle stiffness

:: difficulty sleeping

:: problems with mental processes (known as “fibro-fog”), such as problems with memory and concentration

:: headaches

:: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which causes stomach pain and bloating.

Treatment

There’s no cure for fibromyalgia, however symptoms of the condition can be eased with treatment. According to the NHS, treatment often consists of a mixture of medication and lifestyle changes.

“You may need to take several different types of medicines for fibromyalgia, including painkillers and antidepressants,” reads the NHS Choices website.

Painkillers such as paracetamol may help relieve some of the pain associated with the condition. If these aren’t effective, your GP may prescribe something stronger, like codeine.

It’s thought low levels of neurotransmitters, which carry messages to and from the brain, may be a factor in fibromyalgia. Antidepressants boost the levels of neurotransmitters, so they may be helpful in easing widespread pain associated with the condition.

Sufferers may also be given medication to help them sleep, anticonvulsant (anti-seizure) medicine or antipsychotics, which can sometimes help to relieve long-term pain. 

Alternative treatment options include hydrotherapy, exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychotherapy and counselling.

According to the NHS, some people try acupuncture, massage, manipulation and aromatherapy to ease symptoms - however there’s limited evidence that these work in the long-term.