Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic widespread pain, fatigue and tender points in specific locations across your body. According to the Mayo Clinic, fibromyalgia affects about 2 percent of the United States population, mostly women. The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but its onset may be associated with a particular physical or emotional trauma, and doctors theorize that genetics and infections may also contribute to its development. Those with disturbed sleep patterns and rheumatic diseases may also be at increased risk for fibromyalgia. Only a doctor can accurately diagnose fibromyalgia, but there are certain steps you can take to evaluate your own probability of having fibromyalgia.
Keep a daily log of how much, how often, and where you hurt. Make sure to note whether there are any activities that specifically trigger the pain or whether it’s a constant, widespread hurt.
Look back on your log weekly and monthly. In order to fit the first of the American College of Rheumatology’s two criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia, you must have experienced widespread pain for at least three months. You probably don’t need a daily pain log to know that you’ve been hurting for a long time, but if you’re unclear about how constant or widespread the pain has been it offers a way of recording that, and lets you look back on and measure your progress over time.
Apply pressure with the pad of your thumb to the 18 “tender points” associated with fibromyalgia. See Resources for a link to maps of these points. Hold the pressure for four seconds, then rank the pain associated with the pressure on a scale from zero to 10, where zero represents no pain at all and 10 is the worst pain you’ve ever experienced. If you felt pain in at least 11 of the 18 tender points tested, you fit the second of two criteria for having fibromyalgia; you should see a medical professional for further evaluation and treatment.
It’s possible, but awkward, to apply pressure to all the tender points yourself; having a friend help by applying pressure to these points may free you up to concentrate on ranking discomfort. You’re supposed to be applying 4 kg of pressure at each point; the best way to estimate this without a special tool is that when the bed of your thumbnail turns white, you’ve probably reached about the correct amount of pressure.
You can also take a Fibromyalgia Self-Test to help determine your probability of having fibromyalgia. This isn’t a true diagnostic tool, but is another way of screening yourself before you consult a physician. See Resources for a link to the Self-Test.