Fibromyalgia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Marci

Published on

January 18, 2024

Updated on

January 18, 2024

Medically reviewed by

Ben

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Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and is often accompanied by fatigue, memory, and mood difficulties. The difficulties associated with fibromyalgia can interfere with your day-to-day functioning. Fibromyalgia is often a misunderstood condition, which can lead to frustration and health-related anxiety.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia symptoms sometimes begin gradually with no triggering event, but for some people, the symptoms of fibromyalgia start after an event, such as physical trauma, infection, psychological stress, etc. The primary symptoms of fibromyalgia include[1]:

  • Dull, widespread pain. Fibromyalgia pain is considered widespread when it occurs on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive difficulties

Fibromyalgia can coexist with other conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Migraine and headaches

Causes and risk factors of fibromyalgia

Researchers believe fibromyalgia amplifies pain sensations by affecting how your brain processes painful and non-painful signals.

Neuroplasticity

Nociception refers to your body’s processing of stimuli or information through the central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord) and peripheral nervous system (nerves outside your brain and spinal cord).

  • Nociception is how your body processes stimuli.
  • Pain is the unpleasant sensory experience your brain generates from these activated nociceptors.

Nociception and the experience of pain are not the same for everybody and can change due to a person’s individual experiences. Each person’s brain can process the information sent by nociceptors differently, leading to the generation of more or less pain sensitivity.

Research in pain and fibromyalgia supports that repeated nerve stimulation can cause the brain in people with fibromyalgia to change over time. Additionally, the brain can develop a memory of this pain and become sensitized, meaning it can overreact to painful and non-painful signals. A sensory testing study in fibromyalgia patients found that the patients had altered heat and cold thresholds, a reduced tolerance for pain, and a reduced nociceptive reflex threshold[2][3].

This does not mean that the pain a person may experience is not real or exaggerated. Many of our body’s reactions, such as a fast heart rate, sweating, or blushing, are based on emotional stimuli. This “fight or flight” response is an automatic physiological reaction your body has to stressful stimuli such as pain. Because of this phenomenon, it is essential for doctors not to dismiss a patient’s pain when an anatomical or structural cause can not be identified in the diagnostic workup for the pain.

There are likely many factors that can trigger or aggravate these changes in people with fibromyalgia, including your genetics, past infections, and physical or emotional events.

Other risk factors of fibromyalgia include:

  • Being female. Fibromyalgia is more common in women.
  • Family history. You may be more likely to develop fibromyalgia if a first-degree relative (e.g., sibling or parent) has a history of fibromyalgia.
  • Other medical disorders. You may be more likely to develop fibromyalgia if you have conditions such as osteoarthritis or lupus.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

Your doctor may first perform tests to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms to fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is diagnosed when widespread pain throughout your body is present for at least three months, and 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?

While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a wide variety of therapies can help control symptoms. Lifestyle changes such as exercise and stress-reduction measures also may help.

Fibromyalgia treatments focus on minimizing symptoms and improving general health. A combination of medications and other treatment strategies can positively impact your symptoms.

Medication

Medications can help reduce pain and improve sleep. Common choices include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium may be helpful.
  • Antidepressants can help with the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia.
  • Anti-seizure drugs can be useful in reducing certain types of pain. Pregabalin (Lyrica) was the first drug approved by the FDA to treat fibromyalgia.

Self-care

Self-care is vitally important in the management of fibromyalgia. Lifestyle choices such as stress management, sleep hygiene, and exercise are important aspects of your fibromyalgia treatment regimen.

Therapies

A variety of different therapies can help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Examples include:

  • Physical therapy can teach you exercises to improve your strength and flexibility.
  • Occupational therapy can help you adjust how you perform certain day-to-day tasks that can cause stress on your body.
  • Counseling can teach strategies for coping with pain and stressful situations.

What is re-origin?

re-origin is a science-based, self-directed neuroplasticity training program and supportive community designed to help people suffering from chronic conditions. The goal of re-origin is to educate and guide you through the concepts of neuroplasticity and how to retrain your brain to respond differently to adverse stimuli.

Components of the re-origin program

Understanding neuroplasticity. The training program includes interactive modules, specially designed worksheets, and self-assessment quizzes where you’ll learn:

  • How chronic conditions form
  • How to calm your racing mind and break anxiety loops
  • How to be more resilient to stress
  • How to transform your “threat response” to a “challenge response” and learn to stay calm and relaxed under pressure

Connecting with a Community. You’ll join a curated uplifting community with weekly group coaching calls, live Q&As and online events.

Group coaching or “Momentum Sessions” to inspire motivation & accountability through weekly “momentum group” coaching calls.

It is important to understand the content in re-origin is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for a medical diagnosis, treatment, or advice. Your doctor should always be involved in the management of any health conditions. Consult with your doctor prior to starting re-origin to discuss a plan for your overall health.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, a mental health professional can help. If you are having thoughts of suicide, a mental health professional can help. The American Society for Suicide Prevention provides direct services dedicated to crisis intervention. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. Call or text 988 or text TALK to 741741.

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A Final Word

No matter how long you’ve been living with fibromyalgia, you can manage your symptoms by addressing them at their core. With patience and repetition, the changes in your brain will start to reflect outwardly in reducing your fibromyalgia symptoms.

FAQs

What kind of pain does fibromyalgia cause?
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Fibromyalgia affects the muscles and joints. People often describe fibromyalgia pain as a constant, dull ache. The pain is widespread, meaning it occurs in several different regions of the body at once.

How do I know if my pain is fibromyalgia?
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Never assume that the pain you’re experiencing is fibromyalgia without visiting a doctor. A medical professional can take your medical history and assess your symptoms. If other medical conditions are ruled out and you’ve been experiencing pain in four out of the five regions outlined by the American College of Rheumatology for at least three months, you’ll likely be diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Is fibromyalgia considered chronic pain?
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Yes, fibromyalgia is considered a type of chronic pain, meaning that it lasts for longer than three months.

What are the worst symptoms of fibromyalgia?
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Fibromyalgia symptoms vary from person to person, however, the most debilitating symptoms associated with fibromyalgia generally include widespread pain, fatigue, brain fog, and mood issues.

By

Marci