What You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia

What You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia

Though the causes of this chronic condition are unclear, there are a number of steps you can take to help ease your pain and discomfort.

Fibromyalgia is different for everyone. Although doctors 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
Fibromyalgia can mimic other conditions, making it difficult to diagnose and treat. Common symptoms include extreme body pain, tenderness and fatigue. Other symptoms or issues that may accompany fibromyalgia can include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Noise and light sensitivity
  • Problems with memory and thinking (aka “fibro fog”)
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • 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, doctors 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 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 healthcare provider (HCP) may prescribe medication for your fibromyalgia, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), milnacipran (Savella) or pregabalin (Lyrica). Over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help provide daily relief. Patients are strongly advised to avoid opioid narcotic medications for treating fibromyalgia.

Though pain and fatigue may make it difficult, exercise 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 ease fibromyalgia symptoms. To remember: Low-impact physical exercise will not be harmful for your body, even if you may experience some pain while doing it.

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

Your HCP may also recommend you try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat underlying depression. CBT 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.

Medically reviewed in November 2020. Updated in December 2020.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "What is Fibromyalgia?" Published January 6, 2020.
The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, Inc. (AFSA). "What is Fibromyalgia?"
American College of Rheumatology. "Fibromyalgia." Published March 2019.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. National Institutes of Health. "Fibromyalgia." Published June 2014.

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