According to the National Fibromyalgia Association (n.d.), fibromyalgia affects around 3-6% of the world’s population. Generally, this condition presents itself more often in women than in men, and it can affect people of all ages, including adolescents (Wisner, 2019).
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition which mainly presents widespread musculoskeletal pain throughout the body and fatigue, amongst a variety of other symptoms. When we say ‘chronic’ this means that it is a long-term condition. For one to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, symptoms need to last at least three months and one needs to ensure that there is no other health problem which is causing symptoms (Felman, 2018).
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, however, according to Felman (2018), Rheumatology suggests that it is a problem with the way the central nervous system (CNS) processes pain. However, one may be at risk of developing fibromyalgia if one may have experienced stressful, traumatic physical or emotional events, repetitive injuries, rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases, and CNS problems. It is also suggested that it may be hereditary, and it can also be developed if one has a mood disorder, or if one rarely exercises (DerSarkissian, 2019).
Fibromyalgia affects a person on multiple levels. The following are ways in which Fibromyalgia affects one’s wellbeing:
- Misdiagnosis and Misunderstanding
Fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood (ibid.). It may be misdiagnosed as its symptoms mimic those of other conditions, such as hypothyroidism, and apart from this, there are no laboratory tests to test for the condition (Felman, 2018). It may be also misunderstood as there is no exact cause and cure for fibromyalgia as yet, therefore it makes it harder to understand. Additionally, as Wisner (2019) describes it, fibromyalgia is an “invisible disability”, and due to this, people who suffer from it are often not believed for the symptoms they experience, even by those who mean the most to them. All of the above can contribute to not only frustration, but for people who suffer from it, it is increasingly demoralizing and most develop depression and anxiety, with sometimes causing social isolation too.
2. Various Symptoms
According to Felman (2018), apart from chronic musculoskeletal pain in different parts of the body, other common symptoms include tenderness and stiffness in different parts of the body, sleep disturbances, fatigue, headaches, joint disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, poor circulation and tingling in the face, hands and feet, jaw pain and stiffness, and sensitivity to cold, heat, light, sound and touch, amongst others. Apart from this, one may also experience “fibro-fog” or “brain fog”, i.e. memory lapses and trouble staying alert and focused.
3. Mental Health
According to Wisner (2019), people who suffer from fibromyalgia are three times more likely than the rest of the population to develop depression. It is unknown whether depression is a trigger of fibromyalgia, if people living with fibromyalgia are more susceptible to it, or if it’s just a part of the disease. One can also experience other mental health conditions which are associated with fibromyalgia and which may be severe, thus further impacting one’s quality of life. Such conditions may include anxiety, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation. Additionally, one may experience higher levels of stress and anger, perfectionism, neurotic tendencies, low self-esteem, poor body image, difficulties in interpersonal relationships and in socialising. Due to the variety and intensity of symptoms which one may experience, fibromyalgia can interfere with daily functioning.
Despite the difficulties fibromyalgia presents, there are options for treatment which may combat both the mental and physical aspects of the condition. Medication may be prescribed as a treatment, this depending on one’s symptoms. According to Wisner (2019), de-stressing techniques such as meditation, yoga, and journaling are helpful for not only reducing anxiety and depression, but also to reduce pain symptoms. According to DerSarkissian (2019), physical activity and exercise can improve endurance, strength, functioning, sleeping patterns and it can also alleviate pain. Furthermore, therapies such as massages, acupuncture and chiropractic manipulation may be helpful to ease any aches and stress. Lastly, a counselor, a therapist or support group may help one to deal with the difficulties of facing fibromyalgia and all that it brings with it.
Michela Aquilina is a trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist who is currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute Malta (GPTIM) and is working as a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist with Willingness Team. Michela offers therapy to young adults and adults who are experiencing various challenges and issues relating to mental health and psychosocial, emotional wellbeing.
DerSarkissian, C. (2019, August 7). What is fibromyalgia? WebMD. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/what-is-fibromyalgia
Felman, A. (2018, January 5). Everything you need to know about fibromyalgia. Medical News Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/147083
National Fibromyalgia Association (n.d.). Fibromyalgia prevalence. Retrieved from: https://fmaware.net/fibromyalgia-prevalence/
Wisner, W. (2019, November 12). The mental health effects of fibromyalgia. Talkspace. Retrieved from: https://www.talkspace.com/blog/fibromyalgia-mental-health-symptoms-effects/