What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is defined by widespread chronic pain, as well as a broad spectrum of related symptoms including fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and reduced physical function.

It is a condition affecting the soft tissues. It tends to be seen predominantly in women but can occur in men, and in all age groups.

It was believed in the middle 19th century as a type of rheumatism. Subsequently it has been described at various times in many terms: fibrositis, tension myalgia, myositis, myofascia syndrome, to name but a few. In the past, many patients were often labeled as “neurotic” because of their unexplained symptoms. Up until recently (and there may still be) doctors who still believed it was entirely psychological in basis.

It was not until 1990 that it was described as a disease rather than a syndrome by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and criteria were devised to diagnose it, in order that researchers could be sure while studying fibromyalgia patients that they were all studying the same thing. In 1993 the World Health Organisation finally distinguished fibromyalgia from other rheumatic disorders and accepted the definition adopted by the ACR.

Today it is recognised and treated by a variety of physicians. Doctors may run a multitude of tests to determine the cause of the symtoms and find inconclusive results. However, it is diagnosed on criteria requiring the patient to have widespread pain for a minimum of three months and at least 11 of 18 specified tender spots in all four body quadrants.

The root cause of fibromyalgia is still the subject of ongoing research. As more is learned, there is a growing concensus that this is a disorder of the nervous system rather than of the musculoskeletal system as was previously thought. Thus, the neurological symptoms such as memory loss, lack of concentration, trouble making decisions, etc., fit logically with the illness.

While there is as yet no medical cure for the condition, there is a lot people with fibromyalgia can do to improve the quality of their lives.