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Fibromyalgia: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

An autoimmune disorder, fibromyalgia affects your muscles and soft tissues. It causes widespread pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and cognitive difficulties. In addition to affecting your mood and emotional well-being, fibromyalgia affects more women than men. It usually occurs in middle age, although it may also affect children and older people.

Causes of Fibromyalgia

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not known. Researchers believe that it involves a combination of genetic, environmental, and biological factors. Some of these factors are:

  • Genetics: Fibromyalgia tends to run in families, and some gene mutations may make you more susceptible to developing the condition.

  • Infections: Some viral or bacterial infections may trigger or worsen fibromyalgia symptoms.

  • Trauma: Physical or emotional trauma, such as an injury, surgery, or abuse, may lead to fibromyalgia in some people.

  • Stress: Chronic stress can affect the way your brain and nervous system process pain signals, making you more sensitive to pain.

  • Other conditions: Fibromyalgia often co-exists with other chronic conditions, such as arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, depression, and anxiety.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

The main symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain lasting for at least three months. The pain usually occurs in four or more areas of the body, including the neck, shoulder, back, hips, arms, and legs. Intensity and location of pain may vary, and certain factors, including weather changes, physical activity, or stress, may trigger it.

Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Fatigue: People with fibromyalgia often feel tired and lack energy, even after sleeping for long periods of time.

  • Sleep problems: People with fibromyalgia may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. They may also experience nonrestorative sleep, which means they do not feel refreshed after sleeping.

  • Cognitive difficulties: People with fibromyalgia may have trouble concentrating, remembering, or performing mental tasks. This is sometimes called “fibro fog”.

  • Mood disturbances: People with fibromyalgia may experience depression, anxiety, irritability, or mood swings.

  • Other symptoms: People with fibromyalgia may also have headaches, dry eyes, rash, itching, abdominal pain, bladder problems, or sensitivity to light, sound, or temperature.

Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia

In order to diagnose fibromyalgia, your doctor will ask you about your medical history, symptoms, and family history, and perform a physical examination to determine if you have tender points. A tender point is an area of the body that is painful when pressed lightly.

Your doctor may also order some blood tests to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms. These tests may include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC): This test measures the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in your blood.

  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR): This test measures how fast your red blood cells settle at the bottom of a tube. A high ESR indicates inflammation in your body.

  • Cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody test (CCP): This test detects antibodies that are associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Rheumatoid factor (RF): This test measures a protein that is produced by your immune system when it attacks your own tissues.

  • Thyroid function tests (TFTs): These tests measure the levels of thyroid hormones in your blood. Thyroid hormones regulate your metabolism and energy levels.

Treatment of Fibromyalgia

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are treatments that can help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. These treatments include:

  • Medications: Your doctor may prescribe medications to help you with pain relief, sleep improvement, mood stabilization, or nerve function. Some of these medications are:

    • Analgesics: These are painkillers that reduce inflammation and block pain signals. Examples are ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and tramadol.

    • Antidepressants: These are medications that affect the levels of chemicals in your brain that regulate your mood and emotions. Examples are duloxetine, milnacipran, and amitriptyline.

    • Antiseizure drugs: These are medications that prevent or reduce seizures by stabilizing the electrical activity in your brain. Examples are gabapentin, pregabalin, and topiramate.

  • Therapy: Your doctor may refer you to a therapist who can help you with physical therapy, occupational therapy, or counseling. Some of these therapies are:

    • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve your strength, flexibility, and endurance. They can also help you with pain management techniques, such as heat, cold, massage, or acupuncture.

    • Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can help you adjust your work or home environment to make it more comfortable and accessible. They can also teach you how to use assistive devices, such as splints, braces, or cushions.

    • Counseling: A counselor can help you cope with the emotional and mental aspects of fibromyalgia. They can also teach you stress management techniques, such as relaxation, meditation, or breathing exercises.

  • Lifestyle changes: You can also make some changes in your daily habits to improve your symptoms and well-being. These changes include:

    • Exercise: Regular exercise can help you reduce pain, improve sleep, boost mood, and increase energy. You should start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercise. You can choose low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or yoga.

    • Sleep hygiene: Good sleep hygiene can help you get better quality and quantity of sleep. You should follow a regular sleep schedule, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, limit naps during the day, and create a comfortable and quiet sleeping environment.

    • Diet: A balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight and provide your body with the nutrients it needs. You should eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. You should also drink plenty of water and limit your intake of sugar, salt, and processed foods.

    • Support: Having a strong support system can help you cope with fibromyalgia. You can seek support from your family, friends, doctor, therapist, or support group. You can also join online communities or forums where you can share your experiences and learn from others who have fibromyalgia.

Prevention of Fibromyalgia

There is no known way to prevent fibromyalgia, but you can take some steps to reduce your risk or delay its onset. These steps include:

  • The symptoms of fibromyalgia can be triggered or worsened by stress, so it is important to avoid or manage stressful situations. If you experience chronic or severe stress, you can seek professional help. You can also use relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises, to calm your mind and body.

  • Symptoms of fibromyalgia may be caused or aggravated by infections. If you experience symptoms of an infection, such as fever, chills, sore throat, or cough, seek medical attention. If you are prescribed antibiotics or other medications to treat the infection, follow your doctor's instructions.

  • A number of other conditions may increase your risk of developing fibromyalgia or worsen it, including arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, depression, and anxiety. If you suffer from any of these conditions, you should consult your doctor and follow their treatment plan.

  • A healthy lifestyle can help you avoid or delay many chronic diseases and improve your overall health and well-being. It is important to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, sleep enough, avoid smoking and alcohol abuse, and maintain a healthy weight.


As a chronic condition, fibromyalgia causes widespread pain and other symptoms that affect your mental and physical health. While it is not life-threatening, it can interfere with your daily activities and quality of life. You can make some lifestyle changes to reduce your risk or delay the onset of fibromyalgia. There are no cures for fibromyalgia. However, there are treatments that can help you manage your symptoms and improve your well-being. Talk to your doctor if you think you have fibromyalgia or have any questions about it.

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