Few things can make you feel more powerless than when your child is complaining of a pain and you can’t find an immediate cause or resolution. Vague aches, lack of sleep, and general fatigue may point to any number of issues from growing pains to strep throat. Few parents think that their child may actually be suffering from a musculoskeletal disease such as fibromyalgia. While this condition is much more prevalent in adults, specifically women over age 18, it does occur in 1-7% of children and teens. The pain is very real, but no one really knows what triggers fibromyalgia in children or adults.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Often known more commonly as “chronic widespread pain,” juvenile primary fibromyalgia is different from arthritis and other immune system diseases. While arthritis and inflammation can also attack muscles and joints, fibromyalgia doesn’t trigger within the immune system. Instead, it is thought to have roots in the nervous system that includes the brain, neurons, and the spinal cord. This network is responsible for receiving and decoding messages from the muscles and joints throughout the body. Even the smallest pain signals are amplified dramatically, causing the sufferer to perceive that they are in great pain.
Diagnosing the disease, especially in young children, can be quite challenging. There are no laboratory tests that point directly to the condition. Children and youth can appear to be the picture of health and still be in excruciating pain. There are some observations that doctors use to determine whether fibromyalgia may be the culprit behind the symptoms:
- Severe pain that lasts longer than three months for no identifiable reason
- Pain that radiates throughout the body; often mirrored on both sides of the body
- Inability to sleep or rest
- Pain when applying pressure to specific points throughout the body
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Restless leg syndrome
- TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Young children may have a difficulty communicating the problems that they are having that may fit with these symptoms, decreasing the likelihood of a positive diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
Doctors are still struggling to understand exactly how fibromyalgia affects the body, and part of that difficulty lies in the true determination of the cause. Fibromyalgia is thought to be caused by a variety of different factors working together, such as emotional or physical trauma, genetics, and even infections. Understanding what causes the pain is very different from understanding exactly why it hurts — an ongoing question in the mind of many clinicians. There are some risk factors that are thought to increase the chances that you or your child will develop juvenile fibromyalgia, including:
- Girls and young women are more likely to develop this type of pain than boys
- Relatives who suffer from fibromyalgia could point to an increased tendency to develop the disease
- Individuals who currently have lupus or other rheumatic diseases such as arthritis seem to be more likely to develop fibromyalgia
While there are no guaranteed treatments for the disease, there are ways that parents can reduce the likelihood of it affecting their child’s quality of life. Simple methods such as serving a balanced diet and encouraging moderate exercise can boost your child’s ability to rest effectively and efficiently — and gain the necessary coping mechanisms to reduce the negative impact of pain on their lives. It can be challenging for children to deal with chronic pain, causing anxiety or other social disorders. However, the good news is that the physical impact of fibromyalgia on your child’s body is extremely limited and unlikely to cause long-term health difficulties.
With juvenile fibromyalgia as with many diseases, early diagnosis can mean a more effective treatment schedule. More than 80% of children see significant improvement with a robust schedule of therapy. Learn more about fibromyalgia and get the resources that you need to support your child at Caring4OurKids.com. You will find resources for understanding what your child may be facing and how to help support them throughout the healing process.