Because the occurrence of Juvenile primary fibromyalgia syndrome (JPFS) in children and teenagers is increasing, diagnosing the disorder early is important.
Treatment involves support from the family and paying careful attention to the children’s lifestyle. To increase the child’s ability to function during this time when the symptoms are at their worst; special attention should be given to their sleep, exercise, diet and stress levels in order to decrease the fibromyalgia symptoms.
The majority of children seem to either outgrow their symptoms in time or learn to care for themselves in such a way that they will not aggravate the symptoms. However, this is a condition that seems to come and go throughout life.
By paying careful attention to a healthy lifestyle, young people with JPFS should have no problem leading very happy and successful lives.
Children, primarily teens, will often exhibit symptoms that parents don’t pick up on because the children don’t think of it as being ill; they just think it’s their fault that they are having these problems.
If they are experiencing any pain, the pain they feel is not a major pain like appendicitis or a sprained ankle would be. They may complain their arm hurts or their leg hurts; and they may not even complain about it at all until asked to do something.
If the parent does check out the complaint, the first thing they would do, of course, is check for fever, swelling or inflammation. If there is no fever or visible cause for the complaint, the pain is explained away as “growing pains” or “you probably strained a muscle when you were playing”. The child looks healthy, eats well, doesn’t have a fever and there is apparently no swelling or inflammation.
The things a parent should be aware of are any changes from the child’s normal behavior, but the changes are so subtle that unless the child says something, the parent may not pick up on them. Below are some symptoms that a child may exhibit:
- Changes in their sleep patterns
- Hard to get the child awake in the mornings
- Child may have trouble getting to sleep at night
- Child may begin to chronically miss their bus to school
- Falling asleep while doing their homework
- Falling asleep during school
- Excessive use of snacks to “keep awake” while doing their homework
- Excessive use of “sweet snacks” to keep their energy up
- Always tired and too easily labeled as “being lazy”
- Sudden drop in grades
- Trouble with school subjects that require more analytical processing
- Avoiding their friends
- Bouts of irritability
Only occasionally will a child mention the more obvious symptoms that alerts the parent that something is wrong like “I did badly on the test because I slept through the whole thing”; “I feel so spaced out all of the time”; “sometimes things don’t seem real”; “I can’t stay awake in class anymore”; “I’m so tired in the mornings I just cannot wake up”.
The majority of children seem to either outgrow their symptoms in time or learn to care for themselves in such a way as to not aggravate the symptoms.
Life as a Teenager with Fibromyalgia
I first began to show symptoms the summer after the 10th grade. I had all of the symptoms above plus one time I actually passed out as I was walking to the school bus, and for the next three days I was so weak that I could not lift my arms up from my bed. When I was better, my doctor checked me out and said I was obviously hypoglycemic and to stay away from sugar.
I was able to keep myself awake in all of my classes, but in Algebra II, where more concentration was needed; it was very hard to stay awake. I would go home and, armed with a bunch of munchies to keep me awake, I would then teach myself what was taught that day in class so that I could do my homework.
Doing homework was hard because it involved a lot of reading and I had to concentrate more. I would spend the entire evening using munchies to keep myself awake as I tried to get my homework done; fighting sleepiness the whole time.
When test time came in Math it was like I was in a dream fog through most of the test. This got worse as the year went on. I knew the subject, but I eventually got to the place that during tests I would fall asleep after starting the first math problem and didn’t wake up until the bell rang.
I was able to maintain good grade averages in all of my classes except math because I slept through all of my math tests (the only grades I got in math were the graded 100% homework pages that I turned in each day). By the end of my 11th year my Math grade average was D- compared to straight A+ in Geometry the year before.
It was hard to sleep at night and the slightest sound would waken me. In the mornings I couldn’t wake up. It was like I was delirious; I just couldn’t wake up. My brother had to drive me to school many times because I missed my bus.
I began to have problems with depression, though I didn’t understand what it was. As a result, I began to avoid my friends at school, and began just eating a snack for lunch so I could avoid the noisy crowd in the cafeteria. Like I said, kids don’t think of it as being ill, they think of these changes as being “their own failures”.
By this time the school year was almost over and I was busy getting everything together so that I could graduate from the 11th grade. I had previously worked out my credits so I could graduate a year early. I needed the extra year to work to pay for college….that is another story….