What Is Fibromyalgia?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on August 07, 2019

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:


Simply put, you ache all over. Common symptoms include:

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.

WebMD Medical Reference



American College of Rheumatology: "What Is Fibromyalgia?"

Arthritis Foundation: "Fibromyalgia: What Is It?"

American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association: "What Is Fibromyalgia?"

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Fast Facts About Fibromyalgia."

McIlwain, H. The Fibromyalgia Handbook, Holt, 2007.

Behm, F. BMC Clinical Pathology, 2012.

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