Fibromyalgia - Topic Overview

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is widespread pain in the muscles and soft tissues above and below the waist and on both sides of the body. People with fibromyalgia feel pain, tenderness, or both even when there is no injury or inflammation.

Fibromyalgia can cause long-lasting (chronic) pain. It has no cure. But with treatment, most people with fibromyalgia are able to work and do their regular activities. When it is not controlled, you may not have any energy. Or you may feel depressed or have trouble sleeping. But there are many things you can do to help manage your symptoms.

What causes fibromyalgia?

No one knows for sure what causes fibromyalgia. But experts have some ideas, such as:

  • Nerve cells may be too sensitive.
  • Chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) may be out of balance.
  • The deep phase of sleep may be disrupted and affect the amount of hormones that your body releases.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of fibromyalgia are:

  • Deep or burning pain in your trunk, neck, low back, hips, and shoulders.
  • Tender points camera.gif (or trigger points) on the body that hurt when pressed.

People with fibromyalgia may have other problems, such as:

Symptoms tend to come and go. You may have times when you hurt more, followed by times when symptoms happen less often, hurt less, or are absent (remissions). Some people find that their symptoms are worse in cold and damp weather, during times of stress, or when they try to do too much.

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How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose fibromyalgia based on:

  • How much of your body is affected by pain. If you have pain above and below your waist and on both the left and right sides of your body, it is considered widespread. The more widespread your pain, the more likely it is that you have fibromyalgia.
  • How bad your pain and other symptoms are. People who have fibromyalgia usually have pain. They usually also have fatigue, trouble sleeping, and trouble thinking. The more severe these symptoms are, the more likely it is that you have fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is sometimes diagnosed or described using pain and tenderness at 18 specific spots on the body, or tender points camera.gif. You may also hear these called trigger points.

Before the diagnosis, your doctor will make sure that you don't have other conditions that cause pain. These include rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, lupus, and other autoimmune diseases.

How is it treated?

Treatment is focused on managing pain, fatigue, depression, and other symptoms. You may be able to control your symptoms by:

  • Getting regular exercise. This is one of the best ways to manage the pain.
  • Taking medicine, if your symptoms bother you.
  • Going to counseling. This can help you cope with long-term (chronic) pain.
  • Taking care of yourself. Good self-care includes finding better ways to handle stress, having good sleep habits, and talking to your doctor if you have symptoms of depression.

Some people with fibromyalgia also find complementary therapies helpful. These include tai chi, acupuncture, massage, behavioral therapy, and relaxation techniques.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about fibromyalgia:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Living with fibromyalgia:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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