Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome that can cause widespread body pain, fatigue, and cognitive issues. Various treatments can help a person manage their symptoms.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
A person may confuse fibromyalgia symptoms with those of arthritis, or joint inflammation.
Fibromyalgia does not cause joint or muscle inflammation and damage, but it can increase a person’s feelings of joint or muscle pain.
Facts about fibromyalgia include the following:
- Fibromyalgia occurs
- Symptoms include:
- widespread pain
- unrefreshing sleep
- somatic and cognitive or psychiatric symptoms
- Although there is no test for fibromyalgia, doctors may order laboratory tests and X-rays to rule out conditions resembling fibromyalgia.
- There is
no single known causeof fibromyalgia. Genetics, traumatic emotional or physical events, and sleep and mood disorders may all contribute to the condition.
- Currently, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. However, medications, exercise, acupuncture, and behavioral therapy can help relieve symptoms and improve sleep quality.
In this article, we discuss in detail fibromyalgia, including symptoms, treatments, and causes.
Fibromyalgia is a common cause of chronic generalized musculoskeletal pain.
A person may be more at risk of fibromyalgia following a traumatic injury. RA, other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, and genetic factors may also increase a person’s likelihood of developing the condition.
Common fibromyalgia symptoms include:
- widespread pain
- joint and muscle stiffness after sleeping
- irregular sleep patterns
- tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
- restless legs syndrome
- sensitivity to cold or heat
- difficulties with memory and concentration, known as “fibro fog”
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
The following may also occur:
- problems with vision
- pelvic and urinary issues
- rapid weight gain
- cold– or flu-like symptoms
- skin problems
- chest symptoms
- depression and anxiety
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- breathing problems
Symptoms can appear at any time during a person’s life, but they are most common between the ages of 30 and 50.
Fibromyalgia can be difficult for a person to manage alone.
As fibromyalgia is a syndrome, every person will experience a different set of symptoms, and an individual treatment plan will be necessary.
Treatment may include some or all of the following:
- a low impact exercise program
- physical therapy
- stress reduction techniques
- psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- drugs, such as antidepressants, muscle relaxers, and nerve pain medication
A medical professional may recommend medications to treat certain symptoms. These may include over-the-counter pain relievers.
A person should tell a doctor about any other medications they are taking to avoid side effects and interactions with other drugs.
Alongside medication programs, alternative and home remedies may help people manage fibromyalgia symptoms.
A combination of low impact aerobic exercise and resistance training
If exercise is helping with symptoms, it is important to maintain consistency to see progress.
Acupuncture therapy may help improve quality of life in individuals with fibromyalgia. The number of sessions a person may require will depend on the symptoms and their severity.
Complementary treatments, such as acupuncture and massage, may help alleviate pain symptoms. However, evidence of their effectiveness is typically anecdotal and lacks full scientific assessment.
Psychotherapy sessions may help those with fibromyalgia cope with pain symptoms.
Behavior modification therapy is a form of CBT that aims to reduce stress- or pain-increasing behaviors and improve positive behaviors. It includes learning new coping skills and relaxation exercises.
CBT exercises can help reduce pain symptoms and aid long-term management of fibromyalgia. A
Some people may also find that meditation can help alleviate stress and pain sensations.
A person’s diet is an important part of any treatment plan.
Certain dietary changes may help an individual with fibromyalgia live with and manage their condition. These include:
- Eating high-energy foods that are low in sugar: Foods such as almonds, beans, oatmeal, avocado, and tofu can help boost energy throughout the day, helping with tiredness that occurs as a result of the condition.
- Removing foods that have gluten: Studies suggest that removing foods that contain gluten from the diet may help reduce fibromyalgia pain, even in people who do not have celiac disease.
- Avoiding fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP): A 2017 study shows that a diet low in FODMAP could have promising effects on pain levels in people with fibromyalgia.
- Avoiding additives and excitotoxins: Although research is limited, one
studyfound that avoiding the additives aspartame and monosodium glutamate reduced symptoms of fibromyalgia.
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unclear. However, current thinking in the field of rheumatology suggests that fibromyalgia results from an issue with pain processing in the central nervous system (CNS).
Several factors may increase a person’s risk of developing fibromyalgia,
- a stressful, traumatic physical or emotional event, such as a car accident
- repetitive injuries
- RA or other autoimmune conditions, such as lupus
- CNS problems
- the way the genes regulate how a person processes painful stimuli
Fibromyalgia may also be hereditary. Females who have a close relative with fibromyalgia have a higher risk of the condition.
It can take some time to confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, because the symptoms resemble those of other conditions, such as:
A doctor needs to rule out these conditions before diagnosing fibromyalgia.
There are no laboratory tests for the condition, and this, too, can lead to a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis.
The American College of Rheumatology has established three criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia:
- pain and symptoms over the previous week, as well as levels of fatigue, unrefreshing sleep, or cognitive problems
- symptoms that have been present for at least 3 months
- no presence of another health condition that would explain the symptoms
Previously, doctors often assessed so-called tender points to diagnose fibromyalgia. However, healthcare professionals no longer use tender points as a diagnostic tool.
Tender points are areas of the body where a person with fibromyalgia is most likely to feel severe pain.
- the back of the head
- inner knees
- outer elbows
- the neck and shoulders
- the outer hips
- the upper chest
A doctor would diagnose fibromyalgia based on how a person reacts to pressure at these points.
However, doctors no longer see this as an accurate way to diagnose the condition and no longer use them as a reliable indicator of fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia can impact a person’s quality of life, affect physical mobility, and
Individuals with fibromyalgia may also be more likely to experience related conditions, such as:
There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, and a person may experience its symptoms for the rest of their life. However, treatment plans combining medications with physical and mental therapies can help them manage their condition in the long term.
Outlook for people with fibromyalgia will depend on a person’s individual circumstances. For example, studies show that those receiving treatment from primary care sources have a
Other factors, such as an individual’s economic status, medical history, and access to mental health support, will also play a role.