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Here's What Fibromyalgia Feels Like, Say Physicians

Experts explain what fibromyalgia is and it can affect daily life. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes sleep problems and  widespread pain throughout the body that can severely interrupt a person's daily activities and lifestyle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fibromyalgia affects roughly four million American adults–an estimated 2 percent of the U.S. population and at times it can be hard to diagnose because its symptoms mimic other diseases. Fibromyalgia is treatable and experts explain to Eat This, Not That! Health what it's like to have the condition and how to help treat it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Fibromyalgia?

woman having serious chat with her doctor

Board certified internist Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, bestselling author of From Fatigued to Fantastic! says, "Fibromyalgia is a pattern of symptoms which include fatigue, widespread pain, insomnia, and brain fog."

Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, the Chief Medical Officer with Clearing, a telehealth platform for chronic pain patients adds, "Fibromyalgia is a relatively common condition that causes widespread and often disruptive musculoskeletal pain throughout the body. Difficulty sleeping, pronounced fatigue, and memory issues including trouble concentrating frequently characterize fibromyalgia as well. It's not uncommon for people with a challenging or traumatic background to develop fibromyalgia, and the condition is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, TMJ, and IBS."  


What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Woman recovering from an illness in bed at home.

Dr.Teitelbaum shares, "Fibromyalgia represents an 'energy crisis' where the body is spending more energy than it is able to make. When this happens, the area using the most energy for its size malfunctions, acting like a circuit breaker that has been overloaded and goes off-line. This is an almond-sized gland in the brain called the hypothalamus. It controls sleep, causing the paradox of being unable to sleep despite being exhausted, which is the hallmark of this condition. The circuit also controls our hormonal system and autonomic system (blood pressure, gut, pulse, and sweating)."


Who is at Risk for Fibromyalgia?

woman skincare

Dr. Teitelbaum states. "Because the process discussed above involves the immune system as well, three quarters of people with fibromyalgia are women. As is the case with most immune and autoimmune illnesses."

Dr. Hascalovici emphasizes, "Fibromyalgia can affect anyone, including children. However, there are some factors that can increase the likelihood of having the condition. Fibromyalgia more commonly affects women, and tends to be diagnosed in middle age. People with lupus and certain types of arthritis are at a higher risk for fibromyalgia. If a family member has fibromyalgia, your chances of being diagnosed with it also increase."  


How People with Fibromyalgia Describe the Pain

Mature woman feeling strong pain, toothache.

"Think of having a toothache," Dr. Teitelbaum states. "Now think of that toothache spreading throughout your whole body and lasting for years or decades."

According to Dr. Hascalovici, "Often, people say fibromyalgia is a combination of terribly persistent pain combined with a deep, troubling fatigue that makes it difficult to function well or feel "normal." The pain can feel deeply embedded in the muscles and may be throbbing or aching. It may stay in one main location or it may also ripple throughout the body, showing up in different places or in multiple locations at once. Tension and migraine headaches are not uncommon; pain related to tight jaw muscles, upset bowels, and from restless legs syndrome can occur, too. Finally, joints may be particularly tender, and the body may feel much more sensitive to temperature variance and to sensations in general than usual. Irritability, stress, and frustration can heighten the body's perceptions of pain, and the mind and body may also start to handle pain signaling in a different way."


How Fibromyalgia Can Affect Daily Life

Woman recovering from an illness in bed at home.

Dr. Teitelbaum says, "When it is mild, it can allow people to work. But often leaves them unable to do much else. When it is severe, it often leaves people house or bed bound."

Dr. Hascalovici shares, "Low self-esteem, depression, irritability and stress are common in people who have fibromyalgia. As with many people who have to deal with chronic pain, people with fibromyalgia may start to isolate themselves, feeling lonelier and more abandoned over time, or as though they may be difficult to be around. Parenting or caring for others can feel much more difficult, and even taking care of oneself can feel overwhelming. It can also be difficult to explain unpredictable, 'invisible' symptoms to friends, family, and even medical experts, and so people with fibromyalgia may feel as though people do not understand what they are going through or do not know how to offer the right kind of support. Finally, deep fatigue and the 'fibro-fog' related to being unable to concentrate well can exacerbate pain, making everyday responsibilities much more taxing, and also making it very difficult to work." 

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Signs of Fibromyalgia

Vertigo illness concept. Man hands on his head felling headache dizzy sense of spinning dizziness,a problem with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway.

Dr. Teitelbaum reveals, "There are literally dozens of symptoms that can be present. But the key hallmark is the paradox of insomnia despite being exhausted, widespread pain, and brain fog."

Dr. Hascalovici adds,

  • "Widespread muscular pain that has lasted for three months or more
  • Chronic fatigue paired with a foggy memory and other cognitive problems
  • Experiencing pain in a number of areas of your body on a weekly basis (the pain may shift locations or have an erratic pattern, and may worsen with stress or other triggers)." 

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How Fibromyalgia is Treated and Diagnosed

doctor and patient having a somber conversation

According to Dr. Teitelbaum, "Diagnosis is based entirely on symptoms, as there is no specific diagnostic test. Once the diagnosis is made however, numerous tests are needed to determine the underlying cause(s) of each individual's energy crisis. There is a simple free five-minute quiz that can screen for fibromyalgia. In addition to symptomatic treatment for pain, it is especially important to treat the underlying root causes of the low energy, and to optimize energy production. This can be done with what we call the 'SHINE Protocol.' This addresses Sleep, Hormones/Hypotension, Infections, Nutrition, and Exercise as possible. Our published randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study showed that using this approach resulted in 91% of people with fibromyalgia improving, with an average 90% increase in quality of life (P < .0001 versus placebo)." 

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Fibromyalgia Doesn't Decrease Life Expectancy

Sad mature woman sitting on the floor of her living room and looking through the window.

Dr. Hascalovici explains, " The good news about fibromyalgia is that having it doesn't necessarily decrease life expectancy. With treatment, you can maintain your mobility, manage your symptoms and find ways to change the way your body perceives pain. People with fibromyalgia can experience the best of what life has to offer, with the proper treatment and support. Having a strong support system is important and may be one of the biggest indicators of how successful your treatment may be. You can take control of your pain by educating yourself and building a team of medical professionals who can support you."


Personal Account of Fibromyalgia

woman consulting with her female doctor

"Fibromyalgia is a very treatable disease," Dr. Teitelbaum exclaims. "The problem is not lack of effective treatment, but rather lack of effective physician education. This is often the case when a condition's treatments are low-cost and not patentable, as nobody can pay the very large costs that it takes to effectively get the information to most physicians. Personally, I became interested in the illness when I came down with post-viral fibromyalgia in 1975. It knocked me out of medical school and left me homeless. I was lucky enough to learn how to recover, and have spent the last 45 years researching, teaching about, and treating post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome. As Dr. Fauci has noted, what is being called post- COVID "long haulers syndrome" is largely post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome/fibromyalgia. In most people, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia are the same condition. The SHINE Protocol can be very helpful for post- COVID as well." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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