An in-depth exploration of fibromyalgia: part 1

Written by: Dr Husham Al-Shather
Published: | Updated: 23/02/2024
Edited by: Aoife Maguire

According to a recent study in Scotland, it was found that about 5% of the Scottish people would receive a positive diagnosis for fibromyalgia using the criteria set by the American College of Rheumatology. Extrapolating this data to the UK's population, it is estimated that roughly 3 million people in the country are currently coping with the challenges of fibromyalgia. In the first article of a two-part series, leading consultant in pain medicine Dr Husham Al-Shather explores fibromyalgia, explaining triggers and misconceptions about the condition.



Living with fibromyalgia


Living with Fibromyalgia presents a multitude of challenges, both physical and emotional. The experience can be overwhelming as the sufferer battles not only widespread pain, but also symptoms of fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems. As much as people say they get used to it, the truth is that living with this condition is a constant battle. Thankfully, with continuous advancements in research and technology, those with fibromyalgia now have a greater array of treatment options available to them. These include both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical approaches, all aimed at improving their overall quality of life, even though the condition cannot be cured.


What is fibromyalgia?


Fibromyalgia is a persistent condition characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness throughout the body. Alongside these symptoms, there are three other key symptoms: sleep disturbances, memory/concentration issues, and fatigue.


Diagnosis typically requires the presence of all four primary symptoms for a minimum of three months, with blood tests showing no signs of infection or other explanatory factors for the pain. The condition involves a heightened sensitivity of the central nervous system, leading to exaggerated responses to touch and even minor impacts, resulting in significant pain across the body.


Futhermore, diagnosing fibromyalgia can be challenging due to the subjective nature of many of its symptoms, making it difficult to pinpoint the underlying cause. While the exact origins of fibromyalgia remain uncertain, it has been associated with various factors such as physical or emotional stress, as well as traumatic events, which may contribute to the development of the condition.


What triggers fibromyalgia?


While the exact cause of fibromyalgia remains elusive, there are several triggers that are believed to contribute to its development. Research suggests that one primary trigger is an imbalance in brain chemicals, indicating a disturbance in the central nervous system. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest a genetic predisposition to fibromyalgia, with individuals potentially inheriting certain genes from their parents.


Other factors that can lead to the development of fibromyalgia include:


  • Pre-existing pain-related conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Traumatic events such as car accidents or surgical procedures
  • Infections
  • Childbirth
  • Grief from the loss of a loved one
  • The end of a relationship


Common areas of the body where pain may manifest include the hips, knees, upper chest, back of the head and neck, shoulders, elbows, feet, and arms.


What are some misconceptions about fibromyalgia disorder?


Unfortunately, due to the ambiguity surrounding its origins, many doctors do not acknowledge fibromyalgia as a legitimate medical condition. This disbelief, coming from a trusted healthcare professional during the initial interaction, can be demoralising and even exacerbate the perceived pain. I regularly encounter patients in my clinic who have been accused of simply imagining their symptoms. It is important to note that there are no signs of inflammation typically associated with other chronic rheumatological disorders.


Despite this, fibromyalgia is a very real and painful condition, comparable to other joint-related disorders like arthritis. While it is true that the condition is characterised by abnormal pain perception and transmission in the brain, it is not merely a figment of the mind. The sufferers truly experience debilitating symptoms.


Doctors have recognised the legitimacy of this disease and are dedicated to assisting individuals in managing the associated discomfort. However, the lack of a cure for this disorder has presented challenges in the process.






If you suffer from fibromyalgia and would like to book a consultation with Dr Husham Al-Shather, do not hesitate to do so by visiting his Top Doctors profile today

By Dr Husham Al-Shather
Pain medicine

Dr Husham Al-Shather is a highly renowned and experienced consultant in pain medicine, who specialises in back pain, neck pain, headache, sciatica, musculoskeletal pain, as well as fibromyalgia but to mention a few. His main areas of research interest lie in complex regional pain syndrome, widespread pain, new pain medications and the use of ultrasound in the general field of pain medicine

To-date, Dr Al-Shather has obtained a vast amount of experience in relation to the management of various acute and chronic pain conditions, and offers his patients a wide and comprehensive variety of both interventional and non-interventional treatments for patients suffering from acute and/or chronic pain. Since joining The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust as a consultant in pain management, Dr Al-Shather has developed an excellent reputation when it comes to providing patients with optimal clinical care.

Thus far in his medical career, he has distributed numerous amounts of injections and a whole host of procedures with no reports of infection, major complication or readmission to hospital. He provides a substantial amount of treatments, with the main ones including steroid injections, botox injection, epidural injections for neck, upper and lower back pain, nerve blocks, sympathetic blocks, radiofrequency treatment of shoulder, hip and knee joints as well as radiofrequency treatment of facets and sacroiliac joints. 

He successfully completed higher specialist training in both pain management and anaesthetics at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals in London, and undertook his training in advanced pain at St George's Hospital and Ashford & St Peter's Trust prior to completing further training in regional anaesthesia at Queen Victoria Hospital. He is a Fellow of the Faculty of Pain Medicine and a Fellow of the Royal College of Anaesthetists. 

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