While there may be many other possible symptoms of fibromyalgia, let’s start with the most common one: pain. The pain of true, or classic, fibromyalgia is referred to as global, affecting the upper and lower extremities on both sides of the body as well the torso. This type of pain is not just in one region, or even several regions, of the body—for example the shoulder, lower back, and pelvis. Global pain is experienced all over the body.
Do You Have Global Pain or Regional Pain?
It’s actually quite easy to distinguish global pain from localized or regional pain. Suppose you accidentally hit your finger with a hammer. It will hurt like crazy! Doctors call this localized pain since it’s confined to a specific area that you can readily pinpoint. The pain also comes from a clearly known cause—in this case, the hammer.
In contrast, global pain is not limited to any particular area of the body. The pain you feel is widespread. It involves your arms and legs on both sides of the body and is usually felt in your torso, as well. There is acute sensitivity to touch and sometimes light and sound. Even mild stimuli, like a pat on the back, may feel painful. But while the pain is real, the source of the pain seems like a mystery; this is one keynote of chronic global pain syndromes.
Other Common Symptoms
Global pain is usually accompanied by other symptoms, like extreme fatigue, depression, brain fog, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
A troublesome standalone disorder in itself, IBS often accompanies true fibromyalgia and may include intestinal cramping, bloating, gassiness, diarrhea, and/or constipation. This broad range of potential symptoms makes fibromyalgia and other associated chronic pain syndromes that can masquerade as FM hard to diagnose.
I wish I could tell you that there’s one single test that your doctor can use to confirm a diagnosis. Unfortunately, there’s not. There’s no fibromyalgia box that you can check off on a lab report request. Yes, there are test results that are highly correlated with fibromyalgia. But the reality is that to arrive at an accurate diagnosis it requires first ruling out other illnesses.
All of this makes it very difficult for both you and your health-care providers. If you’re suffering from chronic global pain, it’s hard enough to function at all, let alone run around looking for the rare doctor who knows how to figure out what’s wrong with you.
Why Is FM So Tough to Deal With?
Fibromyalgia syndrome is not merely difficult for the people who suffer from it. It’s also hard on their relationships and families. As time drags on, with no remedy or relief, with the raised and dashed hopes of finding a doctor who can help, the families, colleagues, and friends of fibromyalgia sufferers may themselves begin to doubt whether their loved one’s or friend’s pain and other symptoms are really real. Many people have aches and pains, especially as they age. So how do you validate the difference between more routine complaints and global chronic pain syndromes?
Unfortunately many fibromyalgia sufferers turn to mental-health professionals to help them manage the depression, anxiety, and social isolation that results from living for years with an illness that many people doubt is genuine and doctors can’t identify, and for which they believe there are no real answers. But there are answers- such as those you will find in my book “The Fibro Fix.”
David M Brady is a naturopathic medical doctor at Whole Body Medicine and the author of the book The Fibro Fix.