Do you often wake up from sleep aching all over, as if you have been working out all night? Are you irritable, anxious or depressed?

If so, you could be suffering from fibromyalgia (FMS), a chronic syndrome that is chiefly characterised by aches and stiffness in the muscles and joints, as well as the skin, organs and soft tissues.

However, controversy surrounds fibromyalgia. Some doctors claim it does not exist and is not medically recognisable because its symptoms can be caused by anxiety, fatigue and other problems associated with the stresses of daily life. Its symptoms also mimic other conditions.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

According to a survey published in J Clin Rheumatol [2007 Apr;13(2):59-62], 87 per cent of rheumatologists from Southeast Asia believe fibromyalgia is a mixture of medical and psychological illness. Nine per cent think fibromyalgia is primarily a psychological illness. Only three per cent describe it as a pure medical illness.

Though remaining somewhat controversial, “fibromyalgia is increasingly being recognised as a medical condition,” says Dr Tan Kian Hian, Director of the Pain Management Centre and Senior Consultant at the Department of Anaesthesiology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group. “Some of the patients we see do have associated fatigue and depression,” he adds.

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but the condition is thought to be linked to stress, genetics, neck trauma and sleep problems. Fibromyalgia mostly affects women aged 35 to 55.

Signs & symptoms of fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia has been classified as a syndrome, which means that several clinically recognisable features often occur together.

  • Widespread pain across the shoulder, neck, arms, buttocks and upper back
  • Fatigue
  • Stiff or tender muscles
  • Abnormal sleep patterns
  • Cognitive or memory impairment, known as “fibro fog”
  • Headache and migraine
  • Abdominal pain, related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Anxiety & depression

Fatigue occurs in the vast majority of cases, while mental and emotional disturbances occur in over half of them.

Ultimately, each patient with fibromyalgia is unique, and the above symptoms can occur at different times and in different combinations.

Find out more information on how fibromyalgia is diagnosed and treated.

Ref. Q15