Pain and Fatigue: Is It Fibromyalgia?

Written by Brian Krans and Valencia Higuera | Published on March 19, 2015
Medically Reviewed by Healthline Medical Team on March 19, 2015

Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of this complex disorder.

Is It Fibromyalgia?

You’re often fatigued, no matter how much sleep you’ve had. You feel stiff in the morning. The pain is disrupting your life. Does the pain in your neck, shoulders, back, chest, elbows, hips, or knees have you wondering if your symptoms could be more than just soreness?

Could it be fibromyalgia? Using this guide, learn about fibromyalgia, its symptoms, and possible solutions to your pain.

Aches and Pains

Fibromyalgia is much more than a few aches and soreness around your body. Its main characteristic is long-standing pain throughout the body. This pain is often described as a deep, radiating ache. The pain can increase with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety, and stress. It sometimes can improve throughout the day, but it usually worsens in the evening. 

For the pain to be considered widespread and related to fibromyalgia, it must occur in all four of the major quadrants of the body: above and below the waist, and on both sides of the body. Fibromyalgia is often associated with tender points, or various places on the body that are sensitive to firm pressure.

Tender Points

Since 1991, fibromyalgia has been diagnosed using 18 tender points located throughout the body. This diagnostic method was often criticized because it didn’t account for other symptoms unrelated to pain, such as fatigue or cognitive problems.

Because of this, the diagnostic criteria were updated in May 2010 to include all symptoms, not just pain locations.

Fatigue and Fibromyalgia

Along with pain, a majority of fibromyalgia sufferers have sleep disorders that cause chronic fatigue to the point of exhaustion. Some experts believe that fibromyalgia prevents a person from entering the restorative part of the sleep process, which is one of the main characteristics of insomnia. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome (a movement disorder that disturbs sleep) have also been associated with fibromyalgia-related fatigue.

Cognitive and Physical Symptoms

Fibromyalgia has also been known to cause cognitive problems, such as difficulty concentrating or recalling information. This is known as “fibro fog. 

Physical symptoms can include tingling or numbness, headaches, dizziness, increased sensitivity to cold or heat, and digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

There’s no known cause for fibromyalgia, but preliminary research suggests genetics are involved. Other studies link viral or bacterial infections to fibromyalgia. Yet another study found abnormal levels of several brain chemicals that are common among people with fibromyalgia:

  • serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood
  • tryptophan, an amino acid that helps make serotonin
  • substance P, a protein involved in transmitting pain signals from the nerves to the brain

Fibromyalgia Treatment Options

For mild fibromyalgia suffers, symptoms can go away with simple relaxation and lifestyle changes. Studies show that improved fitness, especially aerobic exercise, can relieve fibromyalgia symptoms. Several other options have been successful to varying degrees, including: 

  • dietary changes
  • pain medications
  • antidepressants
  • massage
  • acupuncture
  • counseling

More Fibromyalgia Resources

Fibromyalgia pain, sleeplessness, and fatigue can drastically affect the quality of your life. This disorder has many myths about it, which is why getting the right information is so important. 

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