Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that affects 4 percent of people in the United States (approximately 10 million Americans). The ratio of women to men affected is 4 to 1. It is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain along with fatigue, sleep, memory loss and mood issues.

Researchers believe that fibromyalgia creates painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals. Fibromyalgia has been shown to be genetic; symptoms often begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In some cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single trigger event.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

Widespread pain

Fibromyalgia causes a constant dull ache that can last up to least three months. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.

Fatigue

Sleep is often disrupted by pain, which leads to widespread fatigue.

Cognitive difficulties

A symptom commonly referred to as “fibro fog” impairs the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks.

The symptoms above are considered subjective, meaning they can’t be determined or measured by tests. Because of this, and the combination of no clear known cause, fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed as another disease.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. Treatments typically include both medication and self-care. The most common medication is over-the-counter pain relievers to help ease the chronic pain. Prescription pain medication is not advised as it can lead to dependence. Antidepressants and sleep aids may be part of a treatment plan to ease symptoms related to fatigue. Regular, moderate exercise is important for those who suffer from fibromyalgia, as it will help decrease symptoms. Good exercise options include yoga, walking, swimming and biking. Getting adequate sleep is important since fatigue is one of the most prevalent symptoms.

Why is it more common in women?

Up to 90 percent of Americans who suffer from fibromyalgia are women; men that are afflicted tend to get fewer and milder symptoms than women. Their discomfort also lasts for shorter periods of time and occurs less often. Because fibromyalgia peaks in women during the reproductive years, female hormones are believed to play a role in the higher incidence and severity of the disorder. Researchers theorize that changes in estrogen levels seem to trigger a higher sensitivity to pain.