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What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain in muscles and soft tissues around the body. It is an ongoing (chronic) condition. It can affect the neck, shoulders, back, chest, hips, buttocks, arms and legs. The pain may be worse in the morning and evening. Sometimes, the pain may occur all day long. The pain may increase with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety and stress. The condition affects about 2 to 4 percent of the U.S. population. It is most common in middle-aged women.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. Researchers think there may be a link with sleep problems and stress. It may also be linked to immune, endocrine, or biochemical problems.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Each person may feel symptoms a bit differently. Chronic pain is the most common symptom of fibromyalgia. The pain most often affects the muscles and the points at which the muscles attach to the bone. These are the ligaments and tendons. Pain may begin in one area of the body, such as the neck and shoulders. Over time the entire body may be affected. The pain ranges from mild to severe. It may feel like burning, soreness, stiffness, aching, or gnawing pain. There may be tender spots of pain in certain areas of the muscles. It may feel similar to arthritis, but it is not a degenerative condition and doesn't cause damage to muscles or bones. Other common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Medium to severe fatigue
  • Less exercise endurance
  • Sleep problems at night
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel symptoms, such as abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Restless legs
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Trouble thinking clearly (called "fibro fog")

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can be like other health conditions. Make sure to see your health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

There are no tests that can confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Instead, diagnosis is based on your symptoms and a physical exam. Your health care provider may diagnose you with fibromyalgia if you have:

  • Widespread pain for more than three months
  • 18 tender points on your body during that time
  • At least 11 tender points during the physical exam

How is fibromyalgia treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general health. There's no cure for fibromyalgia, but the symptoms can be managed. Mild cases of fibromyalgia may get better with stress reduction or lifestyle changes. More severe cases may need to be treated with a team. This may include your primary health care provider, a rheumatologist, physical therapist, and a pain management clinic. Treatment may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications, to relieve pain and improve sleep
  • Other pain medications
  • Medications approved for treating fibromyalgia: duloxetine, pregabalin, and milnacipran
  • Antidepressants
  • Exercise and physical therapy, to stretch muscles and improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Relaxation methods
  • Heat treatments
  • Occasional cold treatments
  • Massage

Talk with your health care providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medications.

Living with fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition. But you can manage it by working with your health care provider to create a treatment plan. In addition to medications, lifestyle changes can help symptoms. These include getting enough sleep and exercise.

When should I call my health care provider?

If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your health care provider know.

Key points about fibromyalgia

  • Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain in muscles and soft tissues around the body.
  • Researchers think it may be linked with sleep problems, stress, or immune, endocrine, or biochemical problems.
  • Symptoms may also include fatigue, sleep problems, depression, headaches, and other problems.
  • Treatment can include medication, exercise, relaxation, heat or cold, and massage.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

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