Fibromyalgia symptoms have generally been more severe in women than in men. Women have more widespread pain, IBS symptoms, and morning fatigue than men. Painful periods are also common.
However, when the 2016 revisions to the diagnostic criteria are applied, more men are being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which may reduce the degree of distinction between the pain levels men and women experience. More research needs to be done to further evaluate that distinction.
The transition to menopause could make fibromyalgia worse.
In the past, people were diagnosed with fibromyalgia if they had widespread pain and tenderness in at least 11 out of 18 specific trigger points around their body. Healthcare providers would check to see how many of these points were painful by pressing firmly on them.
Common trigger points included the:
- back of the head
- tops of the shoulders
- upper chest
- outer elbows
For the most part, trigger points are no longer a part of the diagnostic process.
Instead, healthcare providers may diagnose fibromyalgia if you’ve had pain in 4 out of the 5 areas of pain as defined by the 2016 revised diagnostic criteria, and you have no other diagnosable medical condition that could explain the pain.
Pain is the hallmark fibromyalgia symptom. You’ll feel it in various muscles and other soft tissues around your body.
The pain can range from a mild achiness to an intense and almost unbearable discomfort. Its severity could dictate how well you cope day to day.
Fibromyalgia appears to stem from an abnormal nervous system response. Your body overreacts to things that shouldn’t normally be painful. And you may feel the pain in more than one area of your body.
However, available research still doesn’t pinpoint an exact cause for fibromyalgia. Research continues to evolve in better understanding this condition and its origin.
When fibromyalgia pain is in your chest, it can feel frighteningly similar to the pain of a heart attack.
Chest pain in fibromyalgia is actually centered in the cartilage that connects your ribs to your breastbone. The pain may radiate to your shoulders and arms.
Fibromyalgia chest pain may feel:
- like a burning sensation
And similar to a heart attack, it can make you struggle to catch your breath.
Your back is one of the most common places to feel pain. About 80 percent of Americans have low back pain at some point in their lives. If your back hurts, it may not be clear whether fibromyalgia is to blame, or another condition like arthritis or a pulled muscle.
Other symptoms like brain fog and fatigue can help pinpoint fibromyalgia as the cause. It’s also possible to have a combination of fibromyalgia and arthritis.
The same medications you take to relieve your other fibromyalgia symptoms can also help with back pain. Stretching and strengthening exercises can help provide support to the muscles and other soft tissues of your back.
You can also feel fibromyalgia pain in the muscles and soft tissues of your legs. Leg pain can feel similar to the soreness of a pulled muscle or the stiffness of arthritis. It can be:
Sometimes fibromyalgia in the legs feels like numbness or tingling. You may have a creepy crawling sensation. An uncontrollable urge to move your legs is a sign of restless legs syndrome (RLS), which can overlap with fibromyalgia.
Fatigue sometimes manifests in the legs. Your limbs can feel heavy, as if they’re held down by weights.
Healthcare providers and researchers don’t know what causes fibromyalgia.
According to the latest research, the cause appears to be a multiple-hit theory that involves genetic disposition (hereditary characteristics) complemented by a trigger, or a set of triggers, such as infection, trauma, and stress.
Let’s take a closer look at these potential factors and several more that may influence why people develop fibromyalgia.
A past illness could trigger fibromyalgia or make its symptoms worse. The flu, pneumonia, GI infections, such as those caused by Salmonella and Shigella bacteria, and the Epstein-Barr virus all have possible links to fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia often runs in families. If you have a family member with this condition, you’re at higher risk for developing it.
Researchers think certain gene mutations may play a role. They’ve identified a few possible genes that affect the transmission of chemical pain signals between nerve cells.
People who go through a severe physical or emotional trauma may develop fibromyalgia. The condition has been linkedTrusted Source to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Like trauma, stress can leave long-lasting effects on your body. Stress has been linked to hormonal changes that could contribute to fibromyalgia.
Healthcare providers don’t fully understand what causes the chronic widespread nature of fibromyalgia pain. One theory is that the brain lowers the pain threshold. Sensations that weren’t painful before become very painful over time.
Another theory is that the nerves overreact to pain signals.