THE MOST common symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain all over the body, but these lesser-known signs could also signal the disorder.
It’s estimated that around 800,000 people in the UK have the disorder, though according to Fibromyalgia Syndrome UK, official figures could be as high as 2.8 million.
It is not known what causes fibromyalgia, but it’s thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain, and changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body.
It affects seven times as many women as men and typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50.
As well as chronic pain, sufferers usually display increased sensitivity to pain in general, even pain unassociated with the condition.
Here are five other unusual symptoms to look out for, all of which might be indicators of fibromyalgia.
Allodynia is defined as heightened sensitivity to touch, which results in pain from things that normally would not cause discomfort, such as someone rubbing your shoulders or patting your back, says medical website Everyday Health.
“Chronic pain causes amplification of pain signals in the brain itself, as well as changes in three key neurotransmitters related to pain,” explained Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of Fibromyalgia & Fatigue Centres.
Around one in four people with fibromyalgia experience numbness and tingling, particularly in feet, legs, arms, hands and face, known as paresthesia. Exercise and stress relief techniques to tackle anxiety can help.
Cold-induced vasospasm is even more common. It occurs when blood vessels in the extremities go into spasm and close up completely.
“This stops blood going to the fingers and toes (and sometimes even the end of the nose and the earlobes), so they tingle, and then become white, cold and numb,” states Fibromyalgia Syndrome UK.
Sensitivity to smells, light and sound
One common symptom of fibromyalgia is sensitively to fragrances, light, noise and even changes in humidity and temperature. “We have an enormous amount of sensory input coming in, and it takes energy to sort through all of this to separate the noise from the static,” Teitelbaum said.
“Fibromyalgia predominantly represents an energy crisis, and as the body has trouble sorting through the signal from the noise, it reflects as increased sensitivities.”
The NHS notes that patients may also experience problems with mental processes such as memory and concentration, which is known as fibro fog. It is also common for them to forget plans, become easily distracted or struggle to remember new information.
It’s thought fibro fog could be caused by disturbed sleep, as nearly all fibromyalgia sufferers have problems with sleeping, or a combination of factors including low thyroid levels or issues with getting enough oxygen to the brain.
Lipomas are non-cancerous fatty tumours that can appear anywhere on the body and aren’t strictly related to fibromyalgia, but they do seem to be more common in fibromyalgia patients.
Additionally, they appear to develop in the parts of the body that are most painful.
Fibromyalgia symptoms have been found to be eased by a new wearable device. Quell is worn on the upper calf and delivers electrical stimulation to sensory nerve cells.
Researchers found it lessened pain interference with activity and mood, concluding it is useful for helping to reduce chronic pain throughout the body.
Shai N. Gozani, MD, PhD, president and CEO of NeuroMetrix, said: “We are pleased that the results of this large, real-world study of Quell effectiveness has been published. The findings confirm that Quell provides valuable incremental pain relief to many individuals with chronic pain.”