Fibromyalgia is a complex, disabling, and chronic (long-term) condition characterized by widespread long-term pain, fatigue, and stiffness in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, as well as multiple tender points (places on the body where slight pressure causes pain). In addition to muscular pain and fatigue, fibromyalgia may also be associated with sleep problems, depression, and an inability to think clearly.
The word fibromyalgia comes from the Latin term for fibrous tissue (fibro) and the Greek words for muscle (myo) and pain (algia). Fibromyalgia may also be called fibromyositis, fibrositis, chronic muscle pain syndrome, psychogenic rheumatism, and tension myalgia. Although fibromyalgia is often considered an arthritis-related condition, it is not truly a form of arthritis because it does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints, muscles, or other tissues. Like arthritis, however, fibromyalgia is considered a rheumatic condition, a medical condition that impairs the joints and/or soft tissues and causes chronic pain.
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain for which no alternative cause, such as tissue inflammation or damage, can be identified. Patients generally experience pain and stiffness throughout their bodies. Common additional symptoms include: fatigue, sleep disturbances, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches, facial pain, and increased sensitivity, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, chest pain, numbness or tingling sensations in the hands or feet, painful menstrual periods, dizziness, as well as dry eyes, skin, or mouth. Not all people with fibromyalgia experience all associated symptoms.
The cause of fibromyalgia is unclear. Fibromyalgia is believed to be the result of central nervous system malfunction, resulting in amplification of pain transmission and detection. Researchers believe that several factors, including sleep disturbances, stress, family history of fibromyalgia, infection, injury, abnormalities in the nervous system, and changes in muscle metabolism, may lead to the development of fibromyalgia. These events, however, may or may not be present in individuals diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
The main risk factors that may predispose an individual to developing fibromyalgia or its symptoms include middle age, female gender, family history of fibromyalgia, stress, depression, rheumatic disease, and sleep disorders.
Some medical experts prefer the term fibromyalgia syndrome, arguing that fibromyalgia is not its own disease due to lacking scientific consensus about its cause. They also argue that there is a lack of abnormalities on physical examination and an absence of objective diagnostic tests. A diagnosis may be based on a pain index, the presence of key symptoms, and a measure of the severity of the symptoms. According to the American College of Rheumatology guidelines, fibromyalgia patients must have moderate-to-severe pain throughout the body for at least three months. Patients must also have at least 11 tender points (out of a total possible of 18) that are unusually sensitive when mild-to-firm pressure is applied.
Fibromyalgia is not a progressive disease and generally does not lead to other conditions or diseases. It may, however, lead to pain, depression, and lack of sleep. The problems associated with fibromyalgia may disrupt family or work relationships and performance, which may cause frustration and depression. Other conditions that may occur in fibromyalgia patients include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), (IBS), temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, recurrent migraine or tension-type headaches, and muscle ache.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia. However, some treatments are effective in reducing symptoms, such as medications, behavioral interventions, support groups, patient education, and exercise. In mild cases, a reduction in stress and certain lifestyle changes may be enough to manage the disease. These changes may include participation in counseling, regular exercise, physical therapy, healthy sleep habits, and stress reduction.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that fibromyalgia affects five million Americans age 18 years of age or older. The vast majority of fibromyalgia cases (80-90%) are women in their mid-30s to late-50s. However, men and children can also have the disorder. An estimate of the prevalence of fibromyalgia is as high as 3-5% of the population in the United States. Fibromyalgia symptoms may never completely resolve, and their intensity may vary. Although the symptoms of fibromyalgia may be hard to live with, the condition is not considered progressive or life-threatening.

Related Terms

American College of Rheumatology, analgesics, ankylosing spondylitis, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, arthritis, benzodiazepines, central nervous system, chronic muscle pain syndrome, Cymbalta®, depression, duloxetine, fatigue, fibromyositis, fibrositis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, headaches, IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, ligaments, lupus, Lyrica®, milnacipran, muscle relaxants, muscles, musculoskeletal pain, myalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, pain relievers, PMS, post-traumatic stress disorder, pregabalin, premenstrual syndrome, psychogenic rheumatism, PTSD, restless legs syndrome, rheumatic condition, rheumatoid arthritis, Savella®, sleep apnea, sleep disorders, sleep disturbances, spinal arthritis, temporomandibular joint disorder, tendons, tension myalgias, TMJ.