What Is Fibromyalgia? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes muscle and soft tissue pain. The pain usually occurs above and below the midsection of the body on both sides. Although sometimes grouped with arthritis, fibromyalgia is a different disorder, primarily because it does not cause chronic inflammation.

It may also have a connection to your brain: Scientists think fibromyalgia may be caused by out-of-balance neurotransmitters, causing an increase in pain sensations.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Symptoms of the condition can be vague and affect different parts of the body, making it tough for you to know when to see your doctor. Some signs to look for include:

  • A deep or burning pain in the midsection, low back, neck, hips, or shoulders
  • Tender spots on your body that hurt when pressed

People with fibromyalgia tend to have other mood, sleep, or memory problems as well, including:

Fibromyalgia Risk Factors

The cause of fibromyalgia isn’t yet known, so it is difficult to identify what factors make you more at risk. Women are far more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than men, usually in middle age, and genetics may play a role. Fibromyalgia may also develop after an illness, trauma, or severe psychological stress. Rheumatoid arthritis or lupus can also increase your risk.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Fibromyalgia

Because symptoms of fibromyalgia mirror other conditions, like arthritis or autoimmune disorders, your doctor may perform tests to rule out those conditions. Otherwise, he or she will ask about your family history, pain symptoms, other conditions, and how long you have had pain.

When the pain occurs both above and below your waist and has lasted for more than three months, it is considered widespread and is a strong indicator that you have fibromyalgia. You doctor may also look for sensitive points on your body, called trigger points.

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There is no cure for fibromyalgia, so treatment is centered on managing your symptoms. Helping you overcome fatigue or sleep problems, along with lessening your pain. Treatment options include:

  • Exercise, which is one of the best ways to improve pain
  • Physical therapy
  • Over-the-counter medications for pain
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Relaxation and stress management techniques
  • Prescription medications. Some newer medications are available, and it’s best to talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any medication.

There’s no specific test to diagnose fibromyalgia, and many people see multiple doctors before receiving a diagnosis. It’s important to find someone with experience treating the condition to help you find the best approach for your lifestyle.

Learn more at the UPMC Pain Medicine Program website.