Fibromyalgia (also known as Fibromyalgia Syndrome or FMS) is another multi-symptomatic condition that is chiefly characterized by widespread pain of the muscle fibers and connective tissue, poor sleep and often deep fatigue, but also shares many other symptoms with CFS.
After many years of study, it is thought that the pain is caused by the thickening and tightening of the myofascia, which is the thin film or tissue that holds the muscle together. What has not been determined is what starts this process in the first place, although we will see in later chapters that there are some theories that make sense. Some studies have shown that 70% of FMS patients also meet all the diagnostic criteria for CFS, supporting the theory that the two conditions are actually both part of a spectrum. Leon Chaitow, a Naturopathic and Osteopathic Doctor from London, England, states that, “The only obvious difference seems to be that, for some people, the fatigue element is dominant, while for others the muscular pain symptoms are greatest.”
First described by a medical doctor in the 18th century and labeled ‘rheumatism’, FMS was recognized as a distinct disorder of arthritic nature in 1904, but did not receive recognition as a disabling condition until 1987 when the American Medical Association cited it as such. In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology established the criteria for diagnosis as widespread pain of at least 3 months duration in 11 of 18 defined tender muscle sites.
As with CFS, some physicians are discouraged that the definition is so narrow, as it eliminates many who may have pain at only 9 or ten of the sites but are clearly suffering from the same set of symptoms as other FMS sufferers. Doctors who approach treatment with a whole-body mindset consider that anyone who suffers from diffuse pain, severe sleep malfunction and the rest of the symptoms associated should be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, no matter how many or few tender spots they may be able to point to.
The stiffness and pain of fibromyalgia often become worse with physical exertion and fatigue or mental or emotional stress and fatigue. Researchers estimate that over 10 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, of whom 90% are women between the ages of 25 and 45.