Fibromyalgia – What You Should Know

Learn more about fibromyalgia, its symptoms and causes, how its diagnosed and treatment available.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a name given to a group of symptoms marked by generalised pain and muscle stiffness.

These symptoms can be felt in all different areas of the body. Extreme fatigue (tiredness) and sleep problems are also common in fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia does not cause inflammation or damage to the painful areas but may be due to an over active pain system.

Those who have fibromyalgia may be more sensitive to pain than those who don’t. Although there is no known cause for fibromyalgia, it is treatable and manageable.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are:

  • Pain – usually aching, stiffness and tiredness of muscles. Pain may be worst after rest (eg. first thing in the morning) or after activity
  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness), making it difficult to do your normal daily activities
  • Poor sleep
  • Problems with concentration and memory
  • Irritable bowel (diarrhoea, stomach pain).
  • Headaches or migraines

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose.

The body’s tissues appear normal when examined by a doctor. There are no blood tests, x-rays or scans that can test for fibromyalgia.

Your doctor or rheumatologist (arthritis specialist) will look for many features that are typical of fibromyalgia to diagnose the condition.

Questionnaires on the internet or in magazines that you can fill out at home only screen for fibromyalgia. You will still need to have a diagnosis of fibromyalgia confirmed by an experienced doctor.

What is the treatment for fibromyalgia?

#1. There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia.
However, treatment aims to reduce some of your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Treatments for fibromyalgia combine medication with self-care therapies. The focus is on minimising symptoms and improving general health. While there isn’t a single treatment for all symptoms, using a variety of treatments can help.

#2. Find ways to manage pain.
It can be useful to change the way you think about, and react to, pain. A psychologist can teach you skills to help you manage your pain and improve overall wellbeing. Keeping active, balancing activity and rest, and speaking with your doctor about medicines can all help you to manage pain. For more information, read our free infosheet on Dealing with Pain

#3. Stay active.
Exercise has been proven by research to help with pain and other symptoms. Always start gently and slowly and build up as you become fitter and stronger.
For more information, read our free infosheet on Exercise and Fibromyalgia

#4. Balance activity and rest.
Learn to listen to your body and be guided by it. Try to space out your week’s activities to give yourself time to rest. If you are having a bad day, be ready to change your plans and not force yourself to work through pain. See an occupational therapist to learn ways to cope with fatigue and make daily tasks easier.
For more information, read our free infosheet on Working with your Healthcare Team about seeing an occupational therapist and read our free infosheet on Fatigue and Arthritis.

#5. Keep to a healthy weight.
There is no proof that a special diet can help fibromyalgia. Maintaining a healthy weight and having a healthy diet will help you feel in control of your body.
For more information, read our free infosheet on Healthy Eating and Arthritis.

#6. Talk to your doctor about medicines.
Typical arthritis medicines, such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, are not usually helpful in fibromyalgia. However, some people with fibromyalgia may find that their pain or other symptoms can be controlled with medicines that are sometimes used to treat epilepsy or depression. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking any medicines as even natural and over-the-counter medicines can have side effects.

#7. Acknowledge your feelings and seek support.
As there is no cure for fibromyalgia and it can affect many parts of your life, it is natural to feel scared, frustrated, sad and sometimes angry. Be aware of these feelings and get help if they start affecting your daily life.
For more information, read our free infosheet on Arthritis and Emotional Wellbeing.

What causes fibromyalgia?

It is not known what causes fibromyalgia.

It can be more common in people who have:

  • Inflammatory arthritis (for example, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • An illness, such as a virus (or following an illness or infection)
  • Pain from an injury or trauma
  • Experienced emotional stress and depression.

For many people fibromyalgia starts without any obvious cause. Research suggests that the body may become extra sensitive in the way it signals and processes pain in people with fibromyalgia.

October 2022