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What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by pain in your muscles and fibrous tissues (such as tendons or ligaments), accompanied by fatigue, low mood, and sleep problems.

A person with fibromyalgia can experience a wide range of symptoms, and symptoms may vary from person to person.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. For many years it was thought that it was psychologically based but research has found that injury, infection, surgery, or illness may trigger the condition. Sometimes symptoms accumulate over time without a single triggering event. There are also indications that hereditary factors are involved in the development of fibromyalgia as it can occur in several members of one family.

Fibromyalgia is commonly associated with some autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Widespread muscle pain
  • Widespread joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Tender areas on various parts of the body (such as elbows, knees, head) that hurt when touched
  • Fatigue
  • Problems sleeping or staying asleep
  • Cognitive difficulties (such as an impaired ability to focus, memory problems, difficulty concentrating – often referred to as “fibro fog”).

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose because symptoms mimic other disorders and there are no visible signs (like signs of inflammation or joint lumps) or definitive laboratory tests. It may also coexist with other conditions such as:

  • Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Migraine and other types of headache
  • Painful bladder syndrome
  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders (pain in the jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement).

A fibromyalgia diagnosis is often made when a patient has had 3 previous months of unexplained body-wide pain in addition to fatigue, difficulty concentrating and waking up tired. In the past, the diagnosis of fibromyalgia required the presence of a certain number of tender points; however, tender points tend to come and go and people may complain of many tender points on one particular day but few the next.

How is fibromyalgia treated?

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but the condition can be managed using a variety of measures. A holistic approach should be taken as not all symptoms can or should be treated with medications. Learning about the condition and modifying your attitude and behavior towards the condition also helps.

Nonpharmacological treatments include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Dietary changes
  • Education
  • Homeopathy
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Regular exercise
  • Stress management
  • Yoga.

Many different types of medications have also been used in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Treatments usually involve trial and error, as what works for one person may not work for another.

Examples of medications that may benefit some symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Antidepressants (eg, tricyclic antidepressants, SNRIs, SSRIs)
  • Capsaicin
  • Cyclobenzaprine
  • Duloxetine
  • Gabapentin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Pramipexole
  • Pregabalin
  • Tramadol.