Juvenile fibromyalgia 101

Fibromyalgia is an illness that is commonly diagnosed in adulthood. Can it affect children as well?

Juvenile fibromyalgia is a real disease, it is part of a group of conditions known as pain amplification syndromes. It tends to affect children during their adolescence or late childhood. It is more common in girls, but boys can be affected too. In order to diagnose a patient with Juvenile fibromyalgia, they have to meet certain criteria which include the following symptoms and findings:

  • Generalized musculoskeletal pain in three or more areas of the body for three or more months
  • No other cause identified for the symptoms
  • Normal laboratory studies
  • Pain when the doctor examines the patient in certain points
  • Other frequently associated symptoms include:
    • Anxiety or chronic tension
    • Fatigue or tiredness
    • Poor sleep
    • Chronic headaches
    • Irritable bowel syndrome

The cause of juvenile fibromyalgia is not known, however, the majority of patients have a history of some psychological or physical stressor/trauma. These could include illness in the family, death, and/or school problems, among others. It is believed fibromyalgia symptoms are caused by a problem in how the nerves process the sensations originating from muscles and tissues in the body, sending a signal of pain to the brain when there isn’t an injury or lesion in the painful site.

This illness can be very challenging for patients and their families. Symptoms can be so severe that they can impact their quality of life and level of activity. A patient who experiences 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 becomes a cycle of inactivity and pain which can affect 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.

The treatment of juvenile fibromyalgia consists primarily of breaking this cycle and it requires a multidisciplinary team to help the patient. Physical therapists are involved to help your child regain physical fitness and participation in physical activity. Psychology/Psychiatry experts help with trauma that may have triggered the condition and/or help your child overcome the stress and dysfunction caused by the symptoms. Regaining adequate sleep patterns is extremely important and crucial 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 their family, as well as their providers. If fibromyalgia is suspected, it is important to be evaluated by a pediatric rheumatologist as we need to rule out any coexisting condition or other cause for your child’s symptoms. We can also provide guidance on further care needed. 

Post by:

Michelle M. Santiago, MD

My passion is to take care of children and adolescents with rheumatologic/autoimmune disorders. I strive to create a strong therapeutic alliance with my patients and their family, improving their quality of life and ensuring the best outcome.  Compassionate, comprehensive and excellent patient...

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