Understanding Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS)
Developing a better understanding of chronic conditions like fibromyalgia can help debunk misconceptions and cultivate support for sufferers. Fibromyalgia is an invisible illness and many people misunderstand the ways it impacts the daily lives of those who live with it.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia, otherwise known as fibromyalgia syndrome, is a chronic condition that causes a range of symptoms, including widespread pain and fatigue. It generally occurs in people between the ages of 30 and 50, but children and the elderly can also develop this condition. Research suggests that fibromyalgia is more common in women than men, and that women’s symptoms may be more severe.
The exact number of people who are affected by fibromyalgia is unknown. This is because it shares symptoms with many other illnesses and there’s no specific test that leads to a fibromyalgia diagnosis, so it can be difficult to diagnose. The NHS states that some estimates indicate around 1 in 20 people may feel the effects of fibromyalgia to some extent.
Fibromyalgia causes, symptoms, and treatments
The causes, symptoms, and treatment options associated with fibromyalgia still require further research for experts to develop a comprehensive understanding of the syndrome.
The cause of fibromyalgia is largely unknown, but there are a number of potential risk factors. For example, a physically or emotionally traumatic event is thought to trigger a large portion of fibromyalgia cases. This can include the loss of a loved one, giving birth, or incurring a serious injury.
Changes to the way the central nervous system processes pain signals throughout the body and fluctuations in specific chemical balances in the brain are also believed to be linked to the development of fibromyalgia.
According to the NHS, symptoms of fibromyalgia can include:
- Chronic widespread pain
- Stiff muscles
- Sleep disturbances
- Concentration, memory, and other cognitive issues, also known as ‘Fibro Fog’
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Increased pain sensitivity
Research also suggests that fibromyalgia may be linked to mental health issues such as depression.
There’s currently no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are ways for people to manage the symptoms of the condition and improve their quality of life.
Fibromyalgia treatment typically includes one or multiple of the following:
- Pain medications
- Counselling or therapy
- Lifestyle adjustments, such as practising relaxation and appropriate exercise
Misconceptions and stigma around fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is widely misunderstood and requires further research and discovery to determine the root causes and best treatment options. In the past, medical professionals doubted the existence of fibromyalgia, but experts are continuously developing a greater understanding of the condition.
The difficulty in diagnosing and treating this condition has caused a stigma around it, which further perpetuates the difficulties that patients face when seeking diagnoses and treatment options. Many conditions that fall under the invisible illness category are subject to stigma from people who believe that they’re entirely psychosomatic. This can invalidate the experience of sufferers and deter people from seeking the help they need.
Raising awareness of fibromyalgia
Raising awareness of fibromyalgia is crucial because it helps erase common misconceptions while cultivating support and funding. While it’s important to raise awareness of this condition throughout the year, Fibromyalgia Awareness Day is on 12th May. On this day and throughout the year, people can show solidarity by wearing the colour purple or a purple ribbon, raising funds, making donations, and spreading useful information to help others gain an understanding of the condition.
Fibromyalgia support groups
People with fibromyalgia can support each other by sharing their experiences and, in doing so, help each other feel less alone. This can also help encourage people to seek the help they require. There are numerous support groups available throughout the UK, including national, regional, and local options.
Fibromyalgia Action UK offers a variety of different moderated forums that allow people to discuss topics including living with fibromyalgia, communicating with healthcare professionals, and employment issues. This charity’s website also provides a wealth of information about the condition. In addition, Fibromyalgia Action UK offers an online community for those living with fibromyalgia.
Social media is another useful option for people searching for fibromyalgia spaces where they can share their experiences and receive advice and support from their peers. Participating in social media groups and other support groups allows those living with fibromyalgia to become part of a wider community of people who share similar experiences and health issues.