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What is Fibromyalgia?

By Emma F
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Fibromyalgia is a complex and chronic medical disorder that is marked by widespread pain throughout the body, but most particularly within the muscular system. It can come and go and can also shift around in the body, with different places feeling pain at different points in time. In addition to pain, sufferers often experience intense fatigue, tension headaches, and a range of gastrointestinal issues. Medical experts have not been able to identify a single cause, and there isn’t a cure for the condition, either. It’s also very difficult to diagnose in many cases since the symptoms can change and shift over time, and some days are worse than others. It is not usually considered to be life threatening, but it can be quite debilitating and can create serious obstacles in the daily lives of patients.

Main Symptoms

The symptoms most commonly identified with Fibromyalgia are pain and fatigue. Many medical experts talk about the condition in terms of “widespread” pain, which usually means that it occurs both above and below the waist and on both sides of the body, which is to say, on both the right and the left. Most patients describe their sensation as more of a dull ache than a shooting stab, but a lot of this depends on the individual.

An inability to focus and feelings of being in a “mental fog” are very common, too, and many sufferers have a number of cognitive difficulties as a direct consequence of their condition. Other documented symptoms include body stiffness, gastro-intestinal and urinary problems, sleep difficulties, and headaches. People often suffer bouts of intense symptoms followed by periods of more normalcy, though in most cases some pain or irregularity is present somewhere on a more or less constant basis.

Searching for a Cause

The cause of Fibromyalgia is not known, but the vast majority of sufferers are women and it tends to run in families. It is generally believed to be a brain condition related to pain reception and processing. There is a wide variability in how patients develop the condition, what their symptoms are, and how they respond to treatment. Popular theories are that it can be triggered and exacerbated by illness, injury, stress, and sleep interruptions, but most studies on the topic have been inconclusive.

How It’s Diagnosed

Diagnosing this condition can be frustrating for both doctors and patients, and it often takes a lot of time and some degree of trial and error. Unlike some other disorders, there’s no single blood test or imaging test that can be done to definitively determine what is going on. Many of the initial symptoms mimic conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and lupus, so these usually have to be ruled out first. Beyond that, it’s largely a matter of physician expertise and piecing together possibilities from what the patient reports and how he or she presents. A number of medical authorities including the American College of Rheumatology have published diagnostic criteria to help physicians, but even these sorts of guidelines aren’t usually definitive.

Treatment Options

There is no known cure for Fibromyalgia, but sufferers can often find relief from a range of different treatments. Certain prescription drugs, particularly anti-inflammatory medications, are often helpful when it comes to managing pain, and low doses of certain stimulants can be useful in battling cognitive difficulties. Patients who have suffered from the condition for a long period of time sometimes also develop depression, and medications can help with this, too.

There are also a range of non-traditional or “alternative” therapies available in many places. Some patients find relief from regular massage and acupuncture sessions. In addition, many doctors feel that one of the most effective ways to manage symptoms is through simple physical exercise. Although this may be difficult in the beginning, patients can start slowly, often walking for as little as five minutes a day, then build up their tolerance over time. Intentional periods of rest and relaxation throughout the day can be important, too, and certain stretches and weight-bearing exercises can provide relief as well.

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Discussion Comments
By Whatever4242 — On Nov 07, 2012

Many patients with fibromylaiga and myofascial pain syndrome are simply misdiagnosed. Many in reality may have a connective tissue disease called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. It is reported that maybe 80 percent of EDS patients never get a proper diagnosis in their lifetime.

You may not have obvious features of the disease such as the extensive hypermobility, but it may exist in smaller joints such as the fingers. Smooth stretchy skin is common but not always fairly obvious. Read the wisegeek article about fascia, and read my comments regarding fascia.

By anon285872 — On Aug 17, 2012

Really, have you all not been offered Lyrica? I have. Actually, I turned it down for a few years because my brother scared me away from it because of side effects. Finally, my fibromyalgia became intolerable and I took the Lyrica, starting with 50 mg and working up to 150 within three or four weeks. I stayed there for a long while; it helped a little. Then I went up to 250 and the change is incredible! The pain goes away at that dose, or almost does.

It's wonderful, and it wasn't hard to get used to after the first 150. For me, it's $60 a month with insurance and worth every cent. I also take Lortab and Soma for back pain following surgery three years ago; it doesn't do much for the fibro, maybe a little.

By anon181185 — On May 28, 2011

I've had FM for approx three years, only diagnosed a little over a year ago after being tested for every neurologic disease I can think of. Scary. Grateful that it turned out to be FM vs. Lou Gehrig's, MS, etc. I have been taking both Tramadol with acetaminophen and Nortriptyline, which have helped pain some and sleep a lot. Hope this helps someone else.

By anon115129 — On Sep 30, 2010

I have fibro and I also have chronic pain from an accident. I take zytram xl 150 and now I seem to have an increase in blood pressure. Any answers?

By anon66248 — On Feb 18, 2010

Ironically for pain, take caffeine. i had severe pains, no mater what. i took it a few days and when i drank coffee it went away, so i asked my pharmacist why this was and he said they where doing research on how caffeine has worked to limit physical pain and reduce some of the other symptoms associated with it.

Which i found funny because the doctor told me to avoid it (i didn't think he was helpful before this or knew much about the treatment since i even taught him several things about it.)

By anon56246 — On Dec 13, 2009

I have Fibromyalgia, and got some relief with guaifenesin and avoiding MSG. Avoiding MSG is hard, but it seems like most processed food has it.

I say some, because it isn't like I'm A-OK 100 percent, but look it up on the web.

Don't buy anyone's name brand, though unless it's covered. Generic guaifenesin is available over the counter for less than $5 for a bottle.

By anon55143 — On Dec 04, 2009

My family and I suffer from fibro and its very painful and a lot of people who don't understand it think we are chronic complainers but we complain because we are truly hurting.

Some days it's just painful to move. Other days it's not as bad. Some days my feet feel like I have walked on hot coals and my feet are padded with blisters. Not one truly understands this pain unless they have experienced it.

By slowpoke1967 — On Nov 04, 2008

to jperrier

i am also on zytram xl 300mg

it doesn't seem to be working for me and my fibromialga.

In fact it barely does anything at all.

Im back to taking my Tylenol with codeine to relive my pains.

I suffer from many pains -- to many to even mention.

but i thought id just add my 2 cents

By anon14407 — On Jun 16, 2008

i have been told i have fm and i have not yet found ant relief and finding it very difficult to sustain a normal life. my doc has me on bacaflen and a high does of morphine and i don't want to be taking this. i need to know some options so i can stop taking these pills and find something that relieves the pain.

By jperrier — On Nov 07, 2007


i just have been reading your story and it fits almost the same as my problem of many many years. i am trying to get as much info about the disease as i can. i have put this site as my favorite as i need help. i am on a prescibed drug called zytram xl and find it is very helpul. has anyone ever heard of this analgesic?

thank you


By anon1297 — On May 24, 2007

There is a lot of information on this site that helps to clarify fibro myalgia. I was diagnosed nearly 4 years ago after a LONG time and expensive testing which started with a colonoscopy due to over a year of continuous diarrhea. Then came the pain, lack of sleep, inability to do anything including just mashing a bowl of potatoes for dinner or walking up 6 stairs! Depression set in and life became a huge chore just to get out of bed. After taking prescriptions (anti-depressants), massage, yoga, and exercising to no avail I read about hyaluronic acid and began taking it. My life turned around for the better in 3 DAYS. Its been nearly 3 years now and I am still able to live a fairly normal life. The FM symptoms are minimal and I continue to take a small dose of hyaluronic acid, exercise and yoga daily. Hyaluronic acid is inexpensive and you should know if it works for you within a week.

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