Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes a person to experience chronic pain. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can cause extreme shifts in mood. Research suggests that there may be an association between the two conditions.

Having fibromyalgia is often associated with having an emotional or affective disorder, as well. Examples of these comorbidities include:

Bipolar disorder is another form of affective, or mood, disorder that is relatively common in people who have fibromyalgia. Read on to learn more about fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, and the link between these conditions.

a silver link chain on a black backgroundShare on Pinterest
Adrienne Bresnahan/Getty Images

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes a person to have unusual or extreme changes in:

  • mood
  • energy
  • activity
  • concentration
  • focus

This can mean that a person experiences periods of very intense emotions, during which they have symptoms of depression, mania, or both.

During manic periods, a person may feel:

  • very high, or elated
  • jumpy or wired
  • more active
  • as though their thoughts are racing
  • less need for sleep
  • extremely irritable or touchy
  • an intense desire for food, drink, sex, or other pleasurable activities
  • as though they can do a lot at once without getting tired
  • that they are unusually important, powerful, or talented
  • as though they are talking quickly and erratically about many things at once

On the other hand, depressive episodes can cause:

  • extreme sadness or anxiety
  • restlessness
  • trouble concentrating
  • sleeping issues, such as sleeping too much, waking too early, or difficulty getting to sleep
  • slowed speech, or feelings of having nothing important to say
  • forgetfulness
  • lack of interest in most activities
  • difficulty completing simple tasks
  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • thoughts of death or suicide

The mood episodes that occur due to bipolar disorder can last 1–2 weeks or even longer. During a bipolar disorder episode, a person may experience symptoms most of the time.

Although the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, researchers think the condition results from a combination of factors. These factors include:

  • Genetics: The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that people who have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop the condition. However, having a relative with bipolar disorder does not always mean that a person will develop it.
  • Stress: Stressful events, such as financial problems or a death in the family, can sometimes trigger a bipolar disorder episode.
  • Brain function or structure: Researchers have found evidence to suggest that people with bipolar disorder may have slightly different brain structures or functions than other people. However, experts do not yet fully understand these differences.

Fibromyalgia is a condition that can cause a person to experience pain and tenderness throughout their body. This pain and tenderness, which can come and go, may affect different areas of the body.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 2% of adults in the United States have fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia can prove difficult to diagnose as there is no lab test for it. A doctor will instead ask a person about their symptoms. The symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

The cause of fibromyalgia is currently unknown. However, researchers think that issues with a person’s central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord, may be responsible. Additionally, fibromyalgia seems to run in families, which could mean that genetics play a role in its development.

Generally, fibromyalgia occurs in response to a trigger, which can be a health condition or another factor. Examples include:

  • spinal problems
  • arthritis
  • injury
  • physical or emotional stress

There is currently no conclusive link between fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder. However, researchers have theories about how the two conditions link to one another.

A 2015 review looked at nine studies investigating the connection between fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder. This research found that among the participants with fibromyalgia, 21% also had bipolar disorder. However, the authors note that this rate varied among the studies, depending on the methods that the researchers used. The small number of included studies also means that further research is necessary to confirm these findings.

The authors of a 2016 study believe that the causes of the two conditions may overlap. If the conditions have similar origins, it may explain why they can occur together.

Research has found the following characteristics in both bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia:

  • abnormalities in CNS structures that regulate pain and emotional control
  • difficulty managing stress
  • alterations in monoamine neurotransmission pathways, which can affect concentration, pain, and sleep
  • impairment in how the brain adapts to experiences and changes
  • metabolic and cardiovascular issues
  • inflammation

A 2020 study stated that environmental risk factors, such as trauma during childhood, affected people with bipolar disorder or fibromyalgia more frequently than the general population.

Researchers recommend that people who have fibromyalgia also undergo screening for bipolar disorder. The reason for this is that antidepressants that treat fibromyalgia can make bipolar disorder symptoms worse or trigger a manic episode.

A doctor may prescribe agomelatine or memantin to a person who has bipolar disorder alongside fibromyalgia. Agomelatine is an antidepressant that helps reduce pain and depression in people with fibromyalgia, whereas memantin can help reduce pain.

Physical activity may help with the symptoms of both bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia.

Doctors generally prescribe mood stabilizers or antipsychotics to treat bipolar disorder. Psychotherapy may also prove beneficial for treating bipolar disorder symptoms in a person who has both bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia.

Having bipolar disorder alongside fibromyalgia may be difficult for a person to manage.

A review from 2017 notes that research suggests that fibromyalgia symptoms are more severe in people who also have bipolar disorder with severe depression.

However, with the right treatment, a person can manage both conditions effectively. If a person with bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia is finding it difficult to manage one or both of these conditions, they should speak with a doctor.

Bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia often occur alongside each other. The exact link between these conditions is currently unknown. However, researchers think that they may both have common causes or triggers.

If a person has fibromyalgia, they should speak with a doctor to rule out bipolar disorder. Certain treatments for fibromyalgia can trigger manic episodes or cause an increase in symptoms.

People can manage bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia with the right treatments. These can include medications, exercise, and psychotherapy.

A person should speak with a doctor about what treatments are most likely to be effective for them.