What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia, also called fibrositis, is a chronic, widespread pain in muscles and soft tissues surrounding the joints throughout the body, accompanied by fatigue. The disease is fairly common, affecting approximately 2 to 4 percent of the U.S. population, mostly females.

Although its symptoms are similar to other joint diseases, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia is actually a form of soft tissue or muscular rheumatism that causes pain in the muscles and soft tissues. Fibromyalgia is more prevalent in women of childbearing age.

Fibromyalgia is one of several pain syndromes included in the classification of musculoskeletal pain syndrome (MSPS), or pain amplification syndrome.

What causes or triggers fibromyalgia?

Although the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, researchers believe there may be a link with sleep disturbance, psychological stress, or immune, endocrine, or biochemical abnormalities. Fibromyalgia mainly affects the muscles and the points at which the muscles attach to the bone (at the ligaments and tendons).

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Pain is the most common and chronic symptom of fibromyalgia. Pain may begin in one area of the body, such as the neck and shoulders, but eventually the entire body may become affected. The pain ranges from mild to severe and may be described as burning, soreness, stiffness, aching, or gnawing pain. Fibromyalgia usually is associated with characteristic tender spots of pain in the muscles. The following are other common symptoms of fibromyalgia. However each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of fibromyalgia may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

There are no laboratory tests that can confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Instead, diagnosis is usually based on reported symptoms.

What is the treatment for fibromyalgia?

Specific treatment for fibromyalgia will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, and therapies

  • Expectation for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Although there's no cure for fibromyalgia, the disease can often be successfully managed with proper treatment, as fibromyalgia doesn't cause damage to tissues. Treatment may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications (to relieve pain and improve sleep)

  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta), pregabalin (Lyrica), and milnacipran (Savella), which are medications that are approved specifically for treating fibromyalgia

  • Exercise and physical therapy (to stretch muscles and improve cardiovascular fitness)

  • Relaxation techniques

  • Heat treatments

  • Occasional cold applications

  • Massage

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Medical Reviewer: [ Daphne Pierce-Smith MSN FNP RN CCRC, Joy Fincannon RN MN, Kelley Gaskin RN MN, Louise Akin RN BSN, Nancy Bowers RN MPH RN MPH, Sara Foster RN MPH, Lee Jenkins] Copyright: © 2007 Staywell Content Services, Inc. except where otherwise noted.

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