Fibromyalgia is the second most common condition affecting your bones and muscles. Yet it's often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. Its classic symptoms are widespread muscle and joint pain and fatigue.
There's no cure. But a combination of medication, exercise, managing your stress, and healthy habits may ease your symptoms enough that you can live a normal, active life.
Doctors aren't sure what causes it, but some think it's a problem with how your brain and spinal cord process pain signals from your nerves.
We do know certain things suggest you're more likely to get it:
- You're a woman.
- You have another painful disease, such as arthritis, or an infection.
- You have a mood disorder, like anxiety or depression.
- You were physically or emotionally abused or have PTSD.
- You rarely exercise.
- Other family members have it.
Simply put, you ache all over. Common symptoms include:
- Muscle pain, burning, twitching, or tightness
- Low pain threshold or tender points
- Draining fatigue
- Trouble concentrating and remembering, called "fibro fog"
- Insomnia or not sleeping well
- Feeling nervous, worried, or depressed
Fibromyalgia can feel similar to osteoarthritis, bursitis, and tendinitis. But rather than hurting in a specific area, the pain and stiffness could be throughout your body.
Other fibro symptoms can include:
Your doctor will examine you and ask you about your past medical issues and about other close family members.
There's no test that can tell you that you have fibromyalgia. Instead, because the symptoms are so similar to other conditions, your doctor will want to rule out illnesses such as an underactive thyroid, different types of arthritis, and lupus. So you may get blood tests to check hormone levels and signs of inflammation, as well as X-rays.
If your doctor can't find another reason for how you feel, they'll use a two-part scoring system to measure how widespread your pain has been and how much your symptoms affect your daily life. Using those results, together you'll come up with a plan to manage the condition.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe pain relievers, antidepressants, muscle relaxers, and drugs that help you sleep.
The three drugs approved specifically for fibro pain are:
Over-the-counter painkillers may help, too. Stronger medicines, like opioids, tend not to work well in the long run, and you could become dependent on them.
Regular moderate exercise is key to controlling fibro. You'll want to do low-impact activities that build your endurance, stretch and strengthen your muscles, and improve your ability to move easily -- like yoga, tai chi, Pilates, and even walking. Exercise also releases endorphins, which fight pain, stress, and feeling down. And it can help you sleep better.
You can try complementary therapies, including massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic manipulation, to ease aches and stress, too.
A counselor, therapist, or support group may help you deal with difficult emotions and how to explain to others what's going on with you.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it’s a good idea to think of things you’ll want your doctor to explain, such as:
- How do you know I have fibromyalgia?
- Are there medications I can take? What side effects can I expect?
- Are there any drugs, foods, or activities I should avoid?
- What exercises can I do to ease my symptoms?
- What alternative therapies might help me?
- How do I explain my condition to friends, family, and colleagues?
- Are there stress management techniques (meditation, yoga, massage) that could help?
- Do you recommend counseling?
- Can you recommend a support group or online community I could join?