Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Fibromyalgia Health Center

Font Size

Understanding Fibromyalgia -- the Basics

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a non-life-threatening, chronic disorder with widespread pain as it's main symptom. 

Other symptoms include fatigue, sleep disturbances, and tender points at certain parts of the body. 

Understanding Fibromyalgia

Find out more about fibromyalgia:

Basics

Symptoms

Treatment

Many people describe fibromyalgia as feeling like a persistent flu.

 

Key Characteristics of Fibromyalgia

Muscle pain, either throughout the body or only at certain points, is the primary symptom of fibromyalgia. It may range from mild discomfort to pain severe enough to limit work, social activities, and everyday tasks. Pain commonly occurs in the neck, upper back, shoulders, chest, rib cage, lower back, and thighs and may feel like a burning, gnawing, throbbing, stabbing, or aching sensation and may develop gradually. It sometimes seems worse when a person is trying to relax and is less noticeable during activity.

A related, key aspect of fibromyalgia is the presence of "tender points," muscles and tendons that are tender when pressed. Typically, tender points are located in the neck, back, knee, shoulder, elbow, and hip.

People with fibromyalgia also feel moderately to severely fatigued and have sleep problems, including insomnia. People with fibromyalgia may also experience other problems including headaches, memory or concentration problems, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Who Is Affected by Fibromyalgia?

Experts estimate that at least 5 million American adults have fibromyalgia. Of these, up to 90% are women. Fibromyalgia also seems to run in families, so a gene may be at least partly responsible for the condition. Most people with fibromyalgia begin to notice symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40, but children and older adults may also develop the condition. 

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Problems in the processing of pain by the brain and nerves is believed to be the underlying reason for fibromyalgia. However, experts do not know what causes this. There are several theories about possible causes or triggers. Inadequate sleep is a possible trigger. Another is suffering physical or emotional trauma. Some experts believe that an infection or other illness may play a part.  

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on April 05, 2014

Today on WebMD

instructor training woman with dumbbells
Can it help your fibromyalgia flare-ups?
woman painting
It’s hard, but we’ve got tips.
 
woman at desk rubbing shoulder
Tips to modify your workspace is one step.
Woman rubbing her upper back
Get treatment options and coping skills.
 
Fatigue or Something More
Slideshow
Woman with stressed, fatigue
Article
 
woman in pain
Article
69x75_thumbnail_woman_applying_pressure_to_forehea
Article
 
woman eating apple
Article
Sex Advice for Single Women
Article
 
Your Symptoms
Article
Uncomfortable mature woman
Article