Fibromyalgia is a painful condition that causes pain across large parts of the body. The pain is felt within the muscles and soft tissues and may be more severe in trigger points on the back, shoulders, or neck. The pain may also be more noticeable after long periods in the same position such as in the evenings or first thing of a morning.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
The causes of fibromyalgia are currently unproven. It is believed to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain which affect how the brain, spinal cord and nerves process the pain messages carried around the body. There are also some studies suggesting that genetics may contribute to the development of fibromyalgia, but it isn’t the whole picture. The condition can be triggered by physically or mentally stressful events. However, for most people there is no clear cause. Known triggers include:
- An injury or infection
- Undergoing an operation
- The breakdown of a relationship
- The death of a loved one
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain which feels like a constant dull ache, this pain is felt across large parts of the body. Unlike short-term ailments or viruses that can cause pain throughout the whole body, fibromyalgia-related pain is long term (chronic) and continues for a minimum of 3 months. Sufferers may also experience heightened sensitivity to pain, so what may cause pain with a 5 out of 10 severity for someone else would lead to pain of 10 out of 10 severity for an individual with fibromyalgia.
In addition to the feeling of pain throughout the whole body, other symptoms include:
- Severe tiredness (fatigue)
- Muscle stiffness
- Sleep disruption such as difficulty sleeping
- ‘Fibro-fog’ resulting in problems with memory and concentration
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Some women are also affected by interstitial cystitis – a sensitive, painful bladder, with increased frequency of urination
How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
There are no specific tests to detect the condition, most diagnoses are be made by taking a comprehensive medical history combined with a physical examination.
With varying symptoms, it can take a while to get a comprehensive diagnosis, especially as many symptoms can also be symptoms of other conditions. Your GP may wish to rule out other conditions first such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis which can be detected through urine or blood tests, x-rays, or scans. However, having one or more of the other conditions does not necessarily mean you don’t also have fibromyalgia.
Key criteria for a fibromyalgia diagnosis are:
- Severe pain in in 3 to 6 different areas of the body or a dull ache/pain in 7 or more areas of the body
- The pain and the additional symptoms as described have been ongoing for 3 months or longer
- Other conditions with similar symptoms have been ruled out as the cause
Treatment will vary from person to person depending upon their individual symptoms – there is no ‘one size fits all’ – a trained healthcare professional will be able to help advise on the best course of action. The current treatment options may improve symptoms however individuals can expect fluctuations in their severity even with optimal treatment. Research into fibromyalgia is ongoing to identify and develop even more therapeutic options.
As fibromyalgia affects different areas of the body, the sufferer may benefit from the advice and care of a few different healthcare professionals including rheumatologists, pain specialists and psychologists to provide a comprehensive treatment plan. Certain lifestyle changes, such as exercise, to improve a person’s quality of life may be suggested also.
Fibromyalgia and medicinal cannabis
Research into the effect of medicinal cannabis on pain associated with fibromyalgia is limited. However, following the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in 2018, there has been a rise in people looking towards medical cannabis. When first-line therapies have not proved effective at reducing symptoms, medical cannabis may be considered an option for fibromyalgia.
For further information and to find out more about medical cannabis, click here to discover more about our multi-award-winning Sapphire Access Scheme. Alternatively, complete an eligibility assessment now. Once complete, one of our clinicians will review your application and advise whether you are eligible for progression to an appointment.