A fibromyalgia flare-up can feel both physically and emotionally exhausting. Lifestyle therapies can help manage symptoms.

If you or a loved one is living with fibromyalgia, you’re no stranger to the challenges and uncertainties this chronic pain disorder can bring. One of the most difficult aspects of fibromyalgia can be dealing with flare-ups or temporary increases in symptom severity.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain experienced for at least 3 months. In addition to widespread pain, it almost always includes other challenging symptoms such as fatigue and difficulty sleeping.

Due to its complexity, fibromyalgia is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. The symptoms can mimic other conditions, such as myofascial pain syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune disease, and the cause is generally unknown.

During a fibromyalgia flare-up, you may experience a temporary worsening of your existing symptoms. Signs and symptoms of a fibromyalgia flare-up can include:

  • increased pain and tenderness throughout your body
  • headaches and migraine
  • heightened fatigue, even after adequate rest
  • stiffness
  • sleep disturbances
  • difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • problems with memory, thinking, or concentration
  • emotional symptoms such as anxiety or depression
  • increased sensitivity to stimuli like light, noise, and temperature changes
  • numbness or tingling sensations
  • face or jaw pain
  • gastrointestinal issues, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms

The duration of a fibromyalgia flare can vary significantly from person to person. In some cases, symptoms can last only for a few days, whereas in other cases, they may persist for months or years.

The severity of the symptoms during a flare-up can also vary. You may experience a mild flare-up or a more severe flare-up, which can be related to factors such as sleep and physical activity.

A fibromyalgia flare-up can be triggered by various factors.

If you’re currently having a flare-up and can’t figure out why, it could be related to a different trigger than usual. Some of these triggers may include:

  • physical or emotional stress
  • changes in weather
  • overexertion infections
  • injuries
  • poor sleep quality or quantity
  • hormonal fluctuations
  • certain medications or changes in medication

While the exact cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, various factors have been identified as potential contributors. It’s believed that a combination of these factors can lead to fibromyalgia and contribute to symptom flares.

According to a 2016 study, a family history of fibromyalgia may increase your likelihood of developing the disorder by as much as 13-fold. This may be due to variations in the genes that result in more sensitive pain responses.

A history of emotional trauma can also play a major role in the development of fibromyalgia. According to a 2020 study, severe emotional stressors and post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) can trigger fibromyalgia symptoms.

Past infections may also contribute to fibromyalgia symptoms, although the research is not definitive. The National Health Service implicates Lyme disease and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) as potential contributors. A small 2021 study also suggested that a prior Giardia infection may similarly act as a causative agent.

Gender seems to play a role as well. According to a recent review, worldwide estimates indicate that fibromyalgia affects about 3.8% of women and 2.4% of men. However, the statistics may underestimate the prevalence in men due to social stigma and biased research.

To recover from a fibromyalgia flare-up, it can be helpful to pursue a number of different treatments, depending on your specific symptoms and their severity. However, some therapies are recommended unanimously to help manage fibromyalgia flares.

A large 2017 review identified exercise as one of the best therapies for fibromyalgia. Both aerobic exercise and strength training were found to provide significant pain relief and improvement in physical function. There was no distinction provided between the specific types of exercise.

It’s generally best to approach exercise for fibromyalgia slowly and to gradually increase the intensity as your body adjusts to the exercises. It can be helpful to see a physical therapist for assistance if this is available through your insurance.

Additional therapies mentioned that may provide relief include:

For mood symptoms, antidepressants are sometimes prescribed. These can include:

Milnacipran may also be prescribed for fibromyalgia if conservative and other treatments have failed. Although it’s in a similar class of drugs as antidepressants, it’s not used to treat depression and has been associated with mood disorders and suicide as a side effect.

For pain, anticonvulsants and skeletal muscle relaxers may be recommended. Some of these may include:

Connecting with a support group or healthcare professional can offer guidance and encouragement during flare-ups as well. A provider may also recommend cognitive behavioral therapy to help manage depression and chronic pain.

Living with fibromyalgia can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in your journey. Flare-ups, though temporary, can significantly impact your daily life, and identifying triggers can help you better manage them.

While there’s no cure for fibromyalgia, working closely with a healthcare professional to ensure all potential underlying conditions have been explored and employing self-care strategies can help you take control of your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Remember to be gentle with yourself, and don’t be afraid to seek support from loved ones or support groups to help navigate the ups and downs of living with fibromyalgia.