- Senior Research Fellow, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute
- Senior Research Fellow, University of Adelaide
Tiffany Gill is affiliated with Arthritis SA.
Michael Musker does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
At least of us suffer some sort of troublesome, long-term (chronic) pain. But not all have fibromyalgia.
People with fibromyalgia have chronic widespread pain — including musculoskeletal aches, pain and stiffness, and soft tissue tenderness — .
This affects other systems like the brain, impacting a person’s ability to concentrate and remember things. People who have fibromyalgia often refer to this as the “”. It can affect sleep patterns, emotions, and many other aspects of everyday living.
Fibromyalgia is a condition , and actor live with.
So what causes fibromyalgia? How does it differ from other types of chronic pain? How is it diagnosed and treated?
What causes fibromyalgia?
When investigations can find no other cause for widespread chronic pain, it’s generally diagnosed as fibromyalgia.
We don’t know exactly what causes fibromyalgia, but are all believed to play a role. Research indicates genes may be responsible for up to 50% of susceptibility to the condition. The latest research indicates the body’s immune system is involved, of 596 people with fibromyalgia found a few common causes reported by participants. Around two thirds of people could relate the start of their symptoms to a specific incident or event, such as a physical injury, a period of sickness that might have involved surgery, or a stressful life event.
Notably, many of those surveyed said they experienced negativity and stigma when trying to explain and authenticate their symptoms to professionals, their families, and their communities.
Who is affected?
Fibromyalgia affects of the world’s population. A recent showed the frequency of fibromyalgia in the general population was between 0.2 and 6.6%. It’s often reported as , at a ratio of three to one.
The recognised fibromyalgia as a disease in 1994. Since then, doctors how fibromyalgia should be diagnosed and who should diagnose it, leading to the so-called “”. It continues to be controversial.
The latest version of the says for someone to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, there needs to be pain in “at least 4 of 5 body regions and is associated with significant emotional distress”.
The devised a widely accepted test which looks for 11 points from of pain from areas across the body using what’s called the .
How is it treated?
Everyone experiences treatments differently, and what works for one person . But the main treatments focus .
The drugs work by altering the neurotransmitters in the brain (gamma amino butyric acid and serotonin), and are effective for many people.
There are many including medication specifically for pain (analgesics), muscle relaxants (benzodiazepines), or treatments to address nerve or spinal pain (neuropathic treatments).
Many of these medications can have , including constipation, or allergic reactions like digestive upset or inflammation. They can also be addictive. Always be honest with your GP about what painkillers you’re taking so they can help you safely manage your pain.
Another common treatment is using a (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). This involves applying pads around the area of pain, or the nerves that might be sending the pain message, and interfering with these using small electrical pulses.
This treatment is thought to produced by the brain and spinal cord to provide pain relief. But the effects may weaken with ongoing use.
It’s important to check with your doctor if TENS treatment is appropriate because it might affect pacemakers or people with epilepsy.
Fibromyalgia can also be treated with physical interventions such as and are other options.
How about the future?
In time, we might be able to look for diagnostic for fibromyalgia in our genetic material to help find who might be at risk of developing the condition, and take preventative action.
Many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia can be found in people who have a condition known as , or chronic fatigue syndrome. Our research is currently looking at the blood of people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome to see if there are specific inflammatory markers that may help us understand how these illnesses develop.
If we can understand the interaction of the immune system with pain and inflammation, then we can begin to target treatments more effectively for people living with fibromyalgia.