Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition with no cure.
It is thought to affect around 800,000 people in the UK, but the NHS estimates numbers are much higher, with up to 2-4.5 percent of people in the UK suffering from fibromyalgia syndrome. That would mean between 1.2 million and 2.8 million people.
It is far more common in women, with between 75-90 percent of patients being female.
Although the exact cause is unknown, it is believed to be triggered by a stressful event, such as the death of a loved one or a serious illness.
Fibromyalgia is notoriously difficult to diagnose due to the vagueness of the main symptom – widespread pain throughout the body.
The neck and back are the areas most likely to be painful, with stiffness and tenderness across many parts of the body.
Sufferers are also likely to have very poor sleep and wake feeling exhausted.
Frequent headaches are another common symptom, as are problems with memory and concentration, which is known as ‘fibro fog’.
Restless leg syndrome, defined as an uncomfortable feeling in your legs, is experienced by one in five fibromyalgia patients.
There is no specific test to confirm the diagnosis. Instead a doctor will rule out several other ailments, before following a set of specific criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia patients experience widespread pain, particularly in the back and neck
“During diagnosis, you’ll be asked about how your symptoms are affecting your daily life,” the NHS explained.
“Your body will also be examined to check for visible signs of other conditions – for example, swollen joints may suggest arthritis, rather than fibromyalgia.”
Rheumatoid arthritis, which causes pain in the joints, shares some symptoms with the condition.
Other illnesses that need to be ruled out include chronic fatigue syndrome, which causes long-term tiredness.
Your GP will probably also check if you have multiple sclerosis.
There is no specific test to confirm fibromyalgia
Once those conditions have been ruled out, certain criteria have to be met for fibromyalgia to be diagnosed.
The most widely-used guidelines for diagnosing fibromyalgia in the UK involves three steps.
- You either have severe pain in three to six different areas of your body, or you have milder pain in seven or more different areas.
- Your symptoms have stayed at a similar level for at least three months.
- No other reason for your symptoms has been found.
The extent of the pain may be assessed by applying gentle pressure to certain tender points across the body, where any pain is likely to be at its worst, the NHS notes.