Fibromyalgia is an condition commonly diagnosed among adults. Can it affect children as well?
The answer is yes. Juvenile fibromyalgia is a real disease, and it's part of a group of conditions known as pain amplification syndromes. It tends to affect children during adolescence or late childhood. It's more common in girls, but can affect boys too. In order to diagnose a patient with juvenile fibromyalgia, they need to meet certain criteria including:
- Generalized musculoskeletal pain in three or more areas of the body, for three or more months
- No other cause identified for symptoms
- Normal laboratory findings
- Pain when the doctor examines the patient in certain points
- Other frequently associated symptoms (i.e., anxiety or chronic tension, fatigue or tiredness, poor sleep, chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.)
The cause of juvenile fibromyalgia isn't known, however, the majority of patients share a history involving some type of psychological or physical stressor/trauma. This could include illness or death in the family, domestic violence and even issues at school. It's believed fibromyalgia symptoms are caused by an problem in how the nerves process sensations originating from muscles and tissues in the body, sending a signal of pain to the brain when there isn't an injury to or lesion on the painful spot.
This condition can be very challenging for both patients and their families, and the symptoms can be so severe that they impact the patient's quality of life and level of activity. A patient experiencing chronic pain from fibromyalgia usually stops exercising because of the pain, which leads to poor physical fitness, which in turn makes any physical activity more painful. This can easily become a cycle of inactivity and pain, which can impact all aspects of a patient's life. It can result or be accompanied by poor sleep, difficulty with concentration, withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities and depression.
Treatment of juvenile fibromyalgia consists primarily of breaking this cycle, and typically requires a multidisciplinary team to help the patient. Physical therapists are involved to help the child regain physical fitness and participation in physical activity. Experts in psychology or psychiatry help the child cope with any trauma that may have triggered the condition and/or overcome the stress and dysfunction associated with juvenile fibromyalgia. Regaining adequate sleep patterns is extremely important and critical for the improvement of these patients. Children and adolescents with this illness can improve, but it requires hard work and commitment from the patient and the family, as well as the providers involved with treatment. If fibromyalgia is suspected, it's important for the child to be evaluated by a pediatric rheumatologist, as we need to rule out any coexisting condition or cause behind the child's symptoms. We can also provide guidance on further care needed.