April 8, 2022
4 min. read

Fibromyalgia: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Medly

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that can lead to pain felt throughout the body, sleep problems, fatigue, and emotional and mental distress. If you’re experiencing the often painful symptoms of fibromyalgia, you’re not alone—fibromyalgia affects about 4 million US adults, about 2% of the adult population.

While what causes fibromyalgia is unknown, and there is currently no cure for the condition, there are ways that you—together with your healthcare team—can effectively manage and cope with the condition. Treatment typically involves a combination of exercise, psychological and behavioral therapy, and medications. To find out more about how to treat and manage your fibromyalgia, keep reading. 

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a long-term, chronic condition that can cause pain and tenderness in the muscles and bones, fatigue, and sleep and cognitive disturbances. Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia mimic those of other conditions, and there are no tests to definitively confirm a diagnosis, fibromyalgia can commonly be misdiagnosed or even misunderstood by patients and healthcare professionals alike. In the past, some providers questioned whether or not fibromyalgia was real—though today, the condition is much better understood. 

What are the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia? 

The primary symptoms of the condition include: 

  • Widespread pain. Most people with fibromyalgia describe the pain as a constant, dull ache. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist. 
  • Fatigue. If you have fibromyalgia, you may feel tired when you wake up, even if you have slept soundly for 8 or more hours. 
  • Cognitive difficulties. Known as “fibro fog,” the cognitive difficulties associated with fibromyalgia include  memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, and trouble staying alert. 

Fibromyalgia can sometimes co-exist with other conditions, like: 

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Migraine and other types of headaches
  • Interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Postural tachycardia syndrome

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed? 

In the past, a person was diagnosed with fibromyalgia if they had widespread pain and tenderness in at least 11 out of 18 specific points around their body. Known as “tender points,” these spots of pain are no longer required for diagnosis. 

Instead, new diagnosis requirements stipulate that you have experienced widespread pain for at least three months. 

To meet the criteria, you must have pain in at least four of these five areas:

  • Left upper region, including shoulder, arm or jaw
  • Right upper region, including shoulder, arm or jaw
  • Left lower region, including hip, buttock or leg
  • Right lower region, including hip, buttock or leg
  • Axial region, which includes neck, back, chest or abdomen

How is fibromyalgia treated? 

In general, treatment for fibromyalgia is a two-pronged approach involving medication and self-care strategies. In order to minimize symptoms and improve your general health, you will likely have to try a variety of treatment options, as no one treatment works for all symptoms. 

Medications

Common medications used to treat fibromyalgia include: 

  • Pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers are recommended to help treat pain. However, opioid medications are not recommended, because they can lead to significant side effects and dependence and will worsen the pain over time.   
  • Antidepressants. Antidepressants may help ease the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. 
  • Anti-seizure drugs. Medications designed to treat epilepsy can work to reduce certain types of pain.

Therapies 

To help combat the impact fibromyalgia can have on your body and your mental wellbeing, you may try a variety of different therapies, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling with a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Lifestyle changes 

Self-care is an important part of managing your fibromyalgia symptoms. You can try incorporating stress management techniques into your daily routine, practicing good sleep hygiene, and exercising regularly—all of which are good food your health and can prevent symptom flare-ups. 

Living with fibromyalgia can impact your daily life, especially if you’re living with pain on a daily basis. Know that in order to feel better, you may have to try a few different therapies simultaneously. Establish a strong group of support around you as you undergo treatment, and work with your healthcare team to find a treatment that will work for you, to help you bes manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. 

Sources 

  • Fibromyalgia. (2022, January 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Fibromyalgia – Symptoms and causes. (2021, October 26). Mayo Clinic.
  • Häuser, W., Sarzi-Puttini, P., & Fitzcharles, M. A. (2019). Fibromyalgia syndrome: under-, over- and misdiagnosis. Clinical and experimental rheumatology, 37 Suppl 116(1), 90–97. 
  • Fibromyalgia: Symptoms, Causes, Triggers & Treatment. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic.
  • Family Health Team. (2021, November 15). Fibromyalgia vs. Chronic Fatigue: Which One Are You Suffering From? Cleveland Clinic.
  • Fibro Fog. (n.d.). Arthritis Foundation.
  • Tender points. (2015, July 25). Mayo Clinic.
  • Moret, C., & Briley, M. (2006). Antidepressants in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 2(4), 537–548. https://doi.org/10.2147/nedt.2006.2.4.537

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