What You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia

What You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia

When you have fibromyalgia, even simple tasks – getting out of bed, chopping vegetables, buttoning a child's coat – can be painful. Unfortunately, doctors still have a lot to learn about this baffling disease, which affects 5 million Americans. Here's a quick look at some of what we know.

What Fibromyalgia Is
Fibromyalgia is different for everyone, but in almost all cases, it’s a chronic disease that causes severe body aches, joint pain and fatigue, along with other symptoms.

Who it Affects
While fibromyalgia is most common in middle-aged to older women, men and even children can have it, too.

Fibromyalgia can mimic other conditions, making it difficult to diagnose and treat. Common symptoms include extreme body pain, tenderness and fatigue. Other symptoms may include:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • headaches
  • noise and light sensitivity
  • problems with memory and thinking, aka “fibro fog”
  • restless legs syndrome
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • morning stiffness
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Just what causes fibromyalgia remains somewhat of a mystery. While concrete causes haven’t been confirmed yet, doctors have a good idea of factors that may contribute to its onset. A car accident, injury, illness or other major life event that causes mental and physical stress may up the risk. A person’s genes likely has something to do with it, too. 

Fibromyalgia has no cure. The best approach is to try multiple kinds of treatments. Talking with a general practitioner, rheumatologist or physical therapist can help you understand the different treatments that are available. Your doctor may prescribe medication, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), milnacipran (Savella) or pregabalin (Lyrica). Over-the-counter painkillers — think aspirin and ibuprofen — can help provide daily relief. Though pain and fatigue may make it difficult, exercise is considered to be one of the most effective treatments. And for some people, alternative therapies such as massage and acupuncture can help ease the pain. 

What to Do
See your doctor if you’ve had unexplained pain paired with other mysterious symptoms, such as sleep or memory problems, for longer than three months. 

Medically reviewed in August 2018.

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