Pain is the hallmark symptom of fibromyalgia. Learn how fibromyalgia pain differs from other types of pain. Also, discover other fibromyalgia symptoms, such as fatigue, depression, and even gastrointestinal symptoms.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain throughout multiple sites of the body. The pain stems from a problem in the way the nervous system processes pain signals.
Fibromyalgia also causes symptoms such as tiredness, depression, and brain fog.
Since pain is common with many other conditions, doctors may not immediately consider fibromyalgia when evaluating these symptoms. That’s one reason why it takes years for people with the condition to get an accurate diagnosis.
Being able to identify the type and location of your pain, along with any other symptoms, can help a doctor arrive at a diagnosis. The faster you get diagnosed, the sooner you can get started on a treatment to relieve your symptoms.
Read on to learn some of the most common fibromyalgia symptoms, plus a few unusual ones you might not expect.
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain and tenderness in muscles and joints throughout your body.
Fibromyalgia also causes several other symptoms, such as:
- trouble sleeping
- anxiety or depression
- memory problems and trouble concentrating, which is sometimes called fibro fog
- muscle twitches or cramps
- numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- itching, burning, and other skin problems
The pain can shift from place to place. However, to meet the American College of Rheumatology’s criteria for a diagnosis, you’ll need to have experienced pain and other symptoms for at least 3 months.
The pain must occur in a specific number of body parts, which is reflected in the widespread pain index (WPI). It must also reach a specific level of severity. In addition, you must not have another condition (such as arthritis) that could explain the pain.
Fibromyalgia pain is located in soft tissues such as the muscles and joints. It’s unique in that it affects various sites all over the body. The pain is intensified because of the way the brain processes it.
Fibromyalgia pain can occur in the:
Everyone’s experience with fibromyalgia pain is different. Some people feel it all over their bodies. Others feel it only in certain muscles, such as in their back or legs.
The quality of the pain can differ from person to person too. It may be described as:
The intensity of the pain can vary based on the time of day and your activity. In some people, it’s worse in the morning or after they exercise. Stress, a lack of sleep, and the weather can also affect the type and intensity of fibromyalgia pain. Read one woman’s account of what fibromyalgia feels like.
The pain from fibromyalgia can be intense, constant, and severe enough to keep you home from work and other activities.
In the 2012 National Health Interview Survey,
Headache or migraine
Tension headaches or migraine attacks, which are often severe, are also common.
Headaches affect around 1 in 2 people with fibromyalgia, according to a 2021 source. Headaches may stem from painful head, neck, or shoulder muscles.
Between 45% and 80% of people with fibromyalgia experience migraine, according to a 2019 study.
Fibromyalgia can cause intense emotional symptoms.
Of all the fibromyalgia symptoms, fatigue can have one of the biggest impacts on your life. Constant fatigue affects
Fibromyalgia fatigue isn’t ordinary tiredness. It’s a bone-weary exhaustion that drains your body of energy and turns every activity into a chore.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
A 2020 literature review found that more than 50% of people with fibromyalgia have at least one functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID). Data suggested that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) was the most common FGID among them.
IBS can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- diarrhea or constipation
- abdominal pain
A 2017 Taiwanese study also found that people with fibromyalgia were 54% more likely to have IBS than people without fibromyalgia.
A few other symptoms that you might not expect but that can occur with fibromyalgia are:
- excess sweating
- sensitivity to noise, light, or temperature
- jaw pain
- chest pain
- bladder pain
- an urgent need to urinate
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three drugs for the treatment of fibromyalgia:
- duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- milnacipran (Savella)
- pregabalin (Lyrica)
Cymbalta and Savella are antidepressants. They work by altering the levels of brain and spinal cord chemicals that control the transmission of pain signals.
Lyrica is an antiseizure drug. It stops the nerve cells involved in pain signaling from becoming overactive.
Other antidepressants and antiseizure drugs may also be effective in treating fibromyalgia.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and other pain relievers can help with short-term discomfort.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) aren’t effective because fibromyalgia doesn’t cause inflammation.
These alternative treatments can also help relieve pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia:
- relaxation therapies
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- tai chi
If you have fibromyalgia, try to exercise as much and as often as you can.
Although it might hurt at first, if you stick with a program of aerobic exercise (such as walking or bike riding) and toning exercises, you’ll eventually strengthen your muscles and reduce your pain levels. For starters, check out this 5-minute workout.
Start slowly and gradually increase your intensity only when you feel ready. A physical therapist can teach you how to exercise safely.
Sleep can be hard to come by when you have fibromyalgia. Yet a lack of sleep can make you feel worse.
If you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep all night, try limiting or avoiding caffeine and other stimulants before bed. Also, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day to get your body into a rhythm.
Pain is the most obvious, and sometimes the most difficult, symptom of fibromyalgia. Other symptoms, such as fatigue, poor concentration, and anxiety, can also have a great impact on your life.
Keep track of your symptoms in a diary so you can accurately report them to your doctor. If your current treatment doesn’t relieve your pain, work with your doctor to find something that does help you.