How Fibromyalgia Impacts Each Age Group
Fibromyalgia is most commonly diagnosed in middle aged women, but it can also affect men and women of all ages.
Most people believe fibromyalgia to be a disease that affects only middle-aged, stressed out women. And while this is true, fibromyalgia is actually a disease that can affect people of both sexes, and of all ages. While it’s more likely to receive a diagnosis at around 40 or 50 years old, at least 8 percent of fibromyalgia cases are diagnosed in women over 80 years old, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association.
These differences in the ages where fibromyalgia can manifest means that different screening and symptom reporting methods must be used while examining the patient, instead of simply identifying a few signs and diagnosing the disease.
Regardless of the symptoms that prompt a diagnosis, fibromyalgia often presents different challenges at different stages in the person’s life. This is mainly because the person has different social and occupational factors at different points in their lives, such as going to school, going to work, and raising a family, which can alter their priorities and how they manage their tasks and energy. Considering that this is a lifelong condition, knowing what to expect and how to deal with the symptoms at all times is quintessential for coexisting with the disease. Finally, older people tend to have other health concerns, which can complicate their condition.
In this article, we will discuss how fibromyalgia affects patients at different stages in their lives, and what they can expect from their disease as they mature.
First and foremost, fibromyalgia is not an age-related disease. While people become more at-risk for the disease as they grow older, not every doctor agrees on age affecting its incidence. Bruce S. Gillis, MD, a research physician and fibromyalgia expert in Los Angeles, says that it can afflect people of all ages, from young children to the elderly.
Children, for example, are often screened and diagnosed with other conditions, regardless of whether their symptoms point towards fibromyalgia or not. For example, said Dr. Gillis, many children who are diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), often test positive for fibromyalgia biomarkers. While fibromyalgia may not be more common as the person ages, their biomarkers will differ as they grow older. For this reason, it can be assumed that older people have more intense symptoms since they can experience age-related factors, such as stamina loss, sleep disorders, and other causes of joint and muscle pain.
Because the elderly often don’t have as many chances to exercise than when they were younger, they may feel the physical symptoms of fibromyalgia with much more intensity than younger patients.
Fibromyalgia in Young Adults
Fibromyalgia is extremely difficult to diagnose at this age, not because it’s more or less common, but because physicians often search for signs of other diseases before arriving at a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Many teens and young adults often have to see many doctors before obtaining their diagnosis, which was the case of Kiley Reitano, a 19-year-old Boston resident who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at the age of 14, as a high-school freshman. Since her diagnosis, she has been blogging about the disease and what it is to live with chronic illnesses in The Spoonie.
For Reitano, living with fibromyalgia as a teen was not easy. While everyone else was out having a ‘normal’ life, she had to stay behind and deal with ‘this’, she said when referring to her fibromyalgia. Not only does she get depressed and anxious at random times, she feels worse every time she remembers that she’s suffering from a chronic illness. Luckily, she found respite in her art, and now she is studying psychology, in hopes of becoming an art therapist.
The worst thing about fibromyalgia in high school is not only linked to the symptoms but because it sets the person apart socially. This is mostly unavoidable, as the patient will barely have the energy and disposition to keep up with what everyone else is doing. Instead, the patient must learn to make peace with their condition, and make their way through life at their own pace.
Fibromyalgia in Mid-Career
Dealing with fibromyalgia while working a full-time job, or focusing on improving a career has its own set of unique challenges. For Julianne Davis, a 38-year-old Newbury Park resident in California, fibromyalgia has not been kind. She received her diagnosis about one year ago, as she was building her career and working in a corporate legal department. Since then, she has found it more difficult to sleep at night, causing her to feel daytime fatigue almost every day. To compensate for this, she has resorted to meditating every night to shut down her mind and relax her body before bed.
Davis also regularly visits her chiropractor and masseuse to receive treatment for her joint pains, and to reduce her discomfort, allowing her to function at near full capacity on a daily basis.
Fibromyalgia in Middle Age and Beyond
This is the most common stage in which fibromyalgia is diagnosed. For Robin Dix, fibromyalgia came with her menopause. The 62-year-old New Hampshire resident received her diagnosed around 8 years ago when she was 54. She now writes about her experiences with her disease in a column called ‘Through the Fog’, which is published in Fibromyalgia News Today.
For Dix, she mainly experienced fatigue. The pain came much later. Over the years, however, the stage has balanced out to include both in equal measures, she said when referring to her symptoms. Aside from her fibromyalgia, Robin has also developed other diseases that also contribute to her fatigue levels, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, IBS, underactive thyroid, adrenal fatigue, and GERD.
Brain fog is another symptom that becomes more common as the patient ages. “Initially,” says Dix, “the brain fog wasn’t that bad. It feels like it’s worse now, though, but part of that might just be getting older.”