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Fibromyalgia: The 'invisible illness' that could be causing your chronic pain

Radio 4’s Kirsty Young has revealed she's suffering from the condition

kirsty young
Chloe Best
Chloe BestLifestyle Features Editor
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Fibromyalgia affects nearly 1 in 20 people in the UK, however it is still widely misunderstood, with the chronic pain and symptoms of the syndrome often leading to sufferers being misdiagnosed with other conditions. And now BBC Radio 4 presenter Kirsty Young is shining a spotlight on the condition after revealing she is taking time off from presenting Desert Island Discs because of the illness with Lauren Laverne will take her place hosting the show. But what is Fibromyalgia? We look at the signs and symptoms.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body, and is estimated to affect nearly 1 in 20 people to some degree. The condition typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50 but can occur at any age, and affects around seven times as many women as men.

What causes Fibromyalgia?

The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but it's thought to be linked to changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages around the body and abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain. In many cases it can be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event such as having an operation, giving birth, the death of a loved one or the breakdown of a relationship.

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What are the symptoms of Fibromyalgia?

The main symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain, which could be worse in particular areas such as your back or neck. The pain is typically continuous, but may be better or worse at certain times. Other symptoms include:

  • Extreme sensitivity: This can lead to people feeling pain from even a light touch
  • Stiffness and muscle spasms
  • Fatigue
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Cognitive problems
  • Headaches
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

How is Fibromyalgia diagnosed?

There is no specific test for fibromyalgia, but if you believe you may have the condition it is important to see your GP, who will first have to rule out all other conditions that could be causing your symptoms, such as arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome or MS. The following criteria usually have to be met for fibromyalgia to be diagnosed:

  • You either have severe pain in three to six different areas of your body, or you have milder pain in seven or more different areas.
  • Your symptoms have stayed at a similar level for at least three months.
  • No other reason for your symptoms has been found

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What is the treatment for Fibromyalgia?

There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, but a variety of treatments could help to ease some of the symptoms and improve quality of life. Sufferers may need to try a variety of different treatments – usually a combination of medication and lifestyle changes – to manage their symptoms.

If you believe you may have Fibromyalgia, it is important to seek professional medical advice from your GP.

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