Normal childhood infections and injuries are fairly simple to diagnose in childhood. It is simple to take a throat swab to find out if the teenager has strep throat or not. Unfortunately, some children have symptoms that are harder to diagnose. They may report symptoms like problems sleeping, fatigue, pain and achiness. While these could be symptoms of a variety of illnesses, it is possible that these symptoms could be caused by fibromyalgia. Known for causing pain in soft tissues and muscles around the joints, fibromyalgia is harder to diagnose in children than adults.
While the majority of fibromyalgia sufferers are women over the age of 18, an estimated 1 to 7 percent of children are believed to have the condition. When it occurs in children, it is called juvenile primary fibromyalgia syndrome (JFPS).
What Causes Fibromyalgia in Teenagers?
Unfortunately, scientists are still uncertain about what causes fibromyalgia. There seems to be a genetic link to the condition since it is more common among families. Scientists have researched connections between fibromyalgia and biochemical, immune, psychological and endocrine issues. To date, there still is not a gene or anything else that has been connected with the condition for sure.
Among teenagers, more girls are diagnosed with the condition than boys. On average, girls are diagnosed between the ages of 13 and 15. While this is the normal time to be diagnosed, fibromyalgia can develop at any point.
Among children, the most common symptom of fibromyalgia is sore spots on specific muscles. If these tender spots are touched, they will hurt. A doctor will normally touch 18 spots on the teenager’s body that are common locations for fibromyalgia pain. Patients who have experienced pain in at least five of these spots for at least three months are diagnosed with the condition. Teenagers may describe the soreness as tenderness, stiffness, aching, tightness or burning.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia in teenagers include:
– Restless legs during sleep
– Problems sleeping
– Difficulties waking up
– Problems remembering things
The hardest part about fibromyalgia is the way that one symptom can fuel another. A child who experiences consistent pain may have problems sleeping. Difficulties sleeping and pain can end up fueling depression. As the symptoms continue and worsen, the cycle only continues.
At times, fibromyalgia can be so difficult that children cannot go to school. On average, students with fibromyalgia miss three days of school every month. Other than hurting their grades, this can make the condition socially isolating. Missing so much school makes it hard to develop friendships and finish academic courses.
Treatment for Fibromyalgia in Teenagers
Once a child is diagnosed with fibromyalgia, there are some options available to treat it. A psychologist or counselor can help with symptoms like depression, social isolation and anxiety. Coping strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy can help teenagers learn how to spot pain triggers and cope with them. Muscle relaxation, meditation and other stress-relieving techniques can also help with pain.
Exercise is considered an important part of fibromyalgia treatment. According to studies, children who exercise and have fibromyalgia experience less pain. They are also less likely to experience depression or anxiety. Physical therapy can help improve the child’s ability to exercise and work through the muscle soreness. In some cases, medication may be given to help with depression and pain. Currently, the efficacy of drugs for children with fibromyalgia is unknown.
So Is Fibromyalgia Worse in Teenagers?
According to the latest research, four out of five teenagers who have fibromyalgia will continue to experience the same symptoms once they enter adulthood. Ultimately, half of teenagers will end up being adults with full-blown fibromyalgia. An estimated 51 percent of patients of teenagers with the condition ended up having the criteria symptoms for adult fibromyalgia. A further one-third did not meet all of the criteria, but they still complained of many of the symptoms caused by the disorder.
Unlike healthy adults at the same age, the patients who had previously experienced juvenile fibromyalgia reported higher pain levels, more visits to the doctor, worse physical abilities and higher anxiety. According to Dr. Anne Eberhard at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, these results are expected. Stress seems to play a large role in fibromyalgia, so adults who have had the condition since childhood would be more likely to experience worse symptoms and stress.
The same research study indicated that adults who had juvenile fibromyalgia were less likely to attend college than healthy adults, but more likely to be married. While these results seem negative, it still means that nearly half of patients did not meet the criteria of fibromyalgia by the time they reached adulthood. Many of these patients still had some of the symptoms, but a portion of them managed to escape from the disorder and enjoy a healthy life.
Overall, fibromyalgia pain seems to be similar at the onset of the disorder in adults and teenagers. Unfortunately, teenagers who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia are more likely to experience pain as adults. The compounded stress of having the disorder for years prior to adulthood seems to make the condition worse. While this may be difficult to hear for teenagers diagnosed with the condition, there are options available. Through exercise and stress-relieving therapies, teenagers can learn how to manage and cope with their condition.