What You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia

While the causes of fibromyalgia are unclear, there are plenty of things we do know about easing fibro fatigue, pain, and discomfort.

A smiling older woman fights fibro fatigue by walking on the beach. She finds that exercise does help her fibromyalgia.

Medically reviewed in October 2022

Updated on October 7, 2022

Fibromyalgia is different for everyone. Although healthcare providers (HCPs) still have a lot to learn about it, in most cases it’s a chronic disease that causes severe body aches, joint pain, and fatigue, along with other symptoms. When you have fibromyalgia, even simple tasks such as getting out of bed, chopping vegetables, or buttoning a child's coat can be painful.

Somewhere between 2 to 4 percent of people—an estimated 4 million American adults—are affected by fibromyalgia. While it’s most common in middle-aged to older women, men and even children can have it, too.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia 
One important thing to know about fibromyalgia is that it can mimic other conditions, making it difficult to diagnose and treat. Common symptoms include widespread body pain, fatigue, and problems with memory and thinking, also known as “fibro fog." Other symptoms or issues that may accompany fibromyalgia can include: 

  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Headaches 
  • Noise and light sensitivity 
  • Restless legs syndrome 
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet 
  • Pelvic pain
  • Morning stiffness 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) 

Causes of fibromyalgia
Just what causes fibromyalgia remains something of a mystery. It is believed not to be an autoimmune or inflammation-based condition. Some research suggests that it could involve the nervous system. While concrete causes haven’t yet been confirmed, experts have a good idea about factors that may contribute to its onset. 

A car accident, injury, illness, or other major life event that causes mental and physical stress may increase the risk. A person’s genetic makeup likely has something to do with it, too. People with fibromyalgia may also have a greater sensitivity to pain than people without it, a condition known as abnormal pain perception processing.

Treatment options 
Fibromyalgia has no cure. The best treatment approach is to try multiple kinds of therapies. Talking with a general practitioner, rheumatologist, or physical therapist can help you understand what you need to know about the different fibromyalgia treatments available. 

Your HCP may prescribe medication for your fibromyalgia, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), milnacipran (Savella), or pregabalin (Lyrica). Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen may provide relief but should only be taken at the recommendation of your HCP. Patients are strongly advised to avoid opioid narcotic medications for treating fibromyalgia. 

Exercise may also help ease fibromyalgia symptoms. Though pain and fatigue may make exercise difficult, it is considered to be one of the most effective treatments. Regular aerobic exercises typically provide the most benefit. Other therapies that involve gentle movement, such as tai chi and yoga, can also help with fibromyalgia symptoms. Remember that low-impact physical exercise will not be harmful for your body, even if you may experience some pain while doing it. Speak with an HCP before starting any new exercise program.

For some people, alternative therapies such as massage and acupuncture can help ease the pain. Additional approaches may include: 

  • Taking patient education courses, which may be given in primary care or community settings 
  • Practicing meditation and other stress-management techniques 
  • Establishing good sleep habits that help improve the quality of your slumber and ward off fibromyalgia fatigue 

Your HCP may also recommend you try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat underlying depression. This is a type of talk therapy that helps people change the way they act or think. 

See your HCP if you’ve had unexplained pain paired with other symptoms, such as sleep or memory problems, for longer than three months. Together, you can work on developing a strategy to help manage your condition. 

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fibromyalgia? Updated May 25, 2022.
The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, Inc. (AFSA). What is Fibromyalgia? 
American College of Rheumatology. Fibromyalgia. Updated December 2021.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Fibromyalgia. National Institutes of Health. Last reviewed June 2021. 
Bhargava J & Hurley JA. Fibromyalgia. StatPearls. Last updated May 1, 2022.

 

 

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