People with fibromyalgia have “tender points” on the body. Tender points are specific places on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs. These points hurt when pressure is put on them.
People with fibromyalgia may also have other symptoms, such as
- Trouble sleeping
- Morning stiffness
- Painful menstrual periods
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- Problems with thinking and memory (sometimes called “fibro fog”)
No one knows what causes fibromyalgia. Anyone can get it, but it is most common in middle-aged women. People with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases are particularly likely to develop fibromyalgia. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but medicine can help you manage your symptoms. Getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well may also help.
The cause is unknown. Possible causes or triggers of fibromyalgia include:
- Physical or emotional trauma
- Abnormal pain response (Areas in the brain that control pain may react differently in people with fibromyalgia.)
- Sleep disturbances
- Infection, such as a virus, although none has been identified
Fibromyalgia is most common among women age 20 to 50.
Pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia. It may be mild to severe.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Painful areas are called tender points. Tender points are found in the soft tissue on the back of the neck, shoulders, chest, lower back, hips, shins, elbows, and knees. The pain then spreads out from these areas.
- The pain may feel like a deep ache, or a shooting, burning pain.
- The joints are not affected, although the pain may feel like it is coming from the joints.
People with fibromyalgia tend to wake up with body aches and stiffness. For some people, pain improves during the day and gets worse at night. Some people have pain all day long.
Pain may get worse with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety, and stress.
Fatigue, depressed mood, and sleep problems occur in almost all people with fibromyalgia. Many people say that they cannot get to sleep or stay asleep, and they feel tired when they wake up.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia may include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Memory and concentration problems
- Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
- Reduced ability to exercise
- Tension or migraine headaches
To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you must have had at least 3 months of widespread pain with one or more of the following:
- Ongoing problems with sleep
- Thinking or memory problems
It is no longer necessary to find tender points during the exam to make a diagnosis.
Results from blood and urine tests are normal most of the time. However, these tests may be done to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.
The goals of treatment are to help relieve pain and other symptoms, and to help a person cope with the symptoms.
The first type of treatment may involve:
- Physical therapy
- Exercise and fitness program
- Stress-relief methods, including light massage and relaxation techniques
If these treatments do not work, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant or muscle relaxant.
The goal of these medicines is to improve your sleep and help you better tolerate pain.
Medicine should be used along with exercise and behavior therapy.
Other drugs are also used to treat the condition, such as:
- Anti-seizure drugs
- Other antidepressants
- Muscle relaxants
- Pain relievers
- Sleeping aids
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an important part of treatment.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps you learn how to:
- Deal with negative thoughts
- Keep a diary of pain and symptoms
- Recognize what makes your symptoms worse
- Seek out enjoyable activities
- Set limits
Your doctor may refer you to a pain clinic if your condition is severe.
Fibromyalgia is a long-term disorder. Sometimes, the symptoms improve. Other times, the pain may get worse and continue for months or years.