What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

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Dr. Rozan J. Razzouk, MD
Family Practitioner

Fibromyalgia symptoms can make it difficult for a person to perform everyday activities. Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic widespread pain and other symptoms, such as tenderness to the touch, fatigue and difficulty sleeping.

Some people also may experience:

  • depression or anxiety
  • migraine or tension headaches
  • digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • irritable or overactive bladder
  • pelvic pain
  • temporomandibular disorder (TMD), which includes pain or compromised movement in the jaw or surrounding muscles
Dr. Dawn Marcus
Neurologist

The name fibromyalgia doesn't fully describe the many disabling symptoms that people typically experience with the disease. A survey of people with fibromyalgia found that pain was only part of the disability caused by the syndrome:

  • Nine in ten have pain.
  • Nine in ten also have problems with fatigue and stiff joints.
  • Eight in ten experience weakness.
  • Seven in ten have problems with sleep.
  • More than half have headaches.
  • Half also report sore eyes.
  • Four in ten have problems with dizziness.
  • Three in ten have problems with breathlessness.

Mood problems, such as depression or anxiety, are also common, affecting approximately two of three people with fibromyalgia.

Although fibromyalgia is usually referred to as a chronic pain syndrome, in some cases, other symptoms may be more of a problem. In one study of fibromyalgia in women, problems with fatigue were more significant than pain because of their effects on quality of life. Another study showed that poor sleep was the worst problem, and that sleep difficulties increased pain and fatigue. This interaction among pain, sleep, and fatigue can result in a vicious spiral of disability.

Breaking out of the cycle of pain, poor sleep, and fatigue often requires attention to each of these problems. So, be sure to share all your troublesome fibromyalgia symptoms with your doctor. Also, be sure to let her know which symptom or symptoms have the biggest impact for you. For example, your worst problem might be poor sleep or fatigue, not pain.

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The salient feature of fibromyalgia is a set of "tender points," specific places on the neck, shoulders, arms, back, hips, and legs that hurt when they are pressed. Yet most people with fibromyalgia also have a number of other symptoms—generalized muscle pain, fatigue, morning stiffness, headaches, tingling hands and feet, and sleep disturbances. Memory and concentration problems are so common that they've been dubbed "fibro fog." Researchers have yet to identify a cause, although they continue to look for genes, triggering events, and underlying illnesses. One hypothesis is that it may be rooted in the central nervous system, resulting in acute sensitivity to pain.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

The symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive and memory problems (sometimes called “fibro fog”)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Morning stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Numbness or tingling of hands and feet
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Temperature sensitivity
  • Sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

The main symptoms are: chronic pain in the muscles, primarily in the upper back in certain "trigger point" areas. The pain must be present longer than three months, have no other known cause, and be related to other symptoms, such as fatigue.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The key symptom of fibromyalgia is pain, not just in one place, but in muscles and joints throughout your body. When you have fibromyalgia, you may feel like you have a rotten case of the flu—except you have it all day, every day, for years, or decades. When you have fibro, the most mundane tasks are epic challenges. Just shampooing your hair can leave you feeling like you just completed a 135-mile Gobi Desert super marathon. People with fibro often wake up feeling tired, have difficulty sleeping, and find it hard to concentrate. If you've got chronic pain and can't sleep well, it's no wonder you'll find that you have trouble thinking clearly (fibro fog). Some people with fibro also have symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, bladder problems, and numbness or tingling in their hands and feet.

Fibromyalgia symptoms include deep muscle pain, fatigue, sleeplessness, and painful trigger points. Most people with fibromyalgia experience widespread pain—in their back, neck, arms, and legs. They also have many tender or trigger points that are very painful to the touch. Other common symptoms of fibromyalgia can include anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, difficulty in concentration or "fibro fog," headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, restless leg syndrome (RLS), and jaw pain or TMJ.

Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • pain
  • fatigue
  • morning stiffness
  • tender points or localized areas of tenderness in muscles
  • sleep problems with difficulty sleeping or unrefreshing sleep
  • anxiety
  • difficulty concentrating
  • depression
  • swelling, numbness and tingling in hands, arms, feet and legs
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome with periods of constipation and diarrhea, abdominal pain
  • urinary symptoms such as burning or frequency of urination
  • painful menstrual cramps (women)
  • discoloration of hands and feet (Raynaud's phenomenon)
  • restless legs syndrome
  • dryness in mouth, nose and eyes
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Because fibromyalgia can cause signs and feelings similar to osteoarthritis, bursitis and tendinitis, some experts include it in this group of arthritis and related disorders. But unlike the usual bursitis or tendinitis that is localized to a single area, the feelings of pain and stiffness with this type of arthritis are very widespread.

For some people, the symptoms are not always chronic—with the pain coming and going. Unlike some chronic, severe forms of arthritis that cause crippling, most of those with FMS are able to get through the day except that they constantly feel tired and achy. Symptoms may include: 

  • pain
  • fatigue
  • morning stiffness
  • trigger points
  • sleep problems
  • anxiety and depression
  • inability to concentrate (fibro fog)
  • swelling, numbness and tingling in hands, arms, feet and legs
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • urinary symptoms
  • painful menstrual cramps
  • discoloration of hands and feet (Raynaud's phenomenon)
  • restless legs syndrome
  • dryness in mouth, nose and eyes

Fibromyalgia causes aching pain throughout the majority of your body. People most often feel it in their muscles and other soft tissues. For some, the pain is constant, while others experience flare ups that come and go. The condition also causes a number of tender points, which are simply places on your body that are sore to the touch. Another common symptom is fatigue. Fibromyalgia often makes it difficult to get a good night's sleep, and as a result, your body may feel tired and worn out a majority of the time.

Chronic widespread body pain which can wax and wane is the primary symptom of fibromyalgia (FM). Both men and women with fibromyalgia often experience moderate to extreme fatigue, sleep disturbances, sensitivity to touch, light and sound, and cognitive difficulties. Many individuals also experience a number of other symptoms and overlapping conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), lupus and arthritis. Stress often increases symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Additional symptoms may include: irritable bowel and bladder, headaches and migraines, restless legs syndrome (periodic limb movement disorder), impaired memory and concentration, skin sensitivities and rashes, dry eyes and mouth, anxiety, depression, ringing in the ears, dizziness, vision problems, Raynaud's Syndrome, neurological symptoms and impaired coordination.

Continue Learning about Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.