Fibromyalgia (fye-bro-mye-AL-ja) is a disorder that causes aches and pain all over the body. Fibromyalgia affects as many as 5 million Americans ages 18 and older. Most people with fibromyalgia are women (about 80–90 percent). People with fibromyalgia often see many doctors before being diagnosed, and the disorder can be hard to treat.
Fibromyalgia (fye-bro-mye-AL-ja) is a disorder that causes aches and pain all over the body. People with fibromyalgia also have "tender points" throughout their bodies. Tender points are specific places on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs that hurt when pressure is put on them.
In addition to pain, people with fibromyalgia could also have:
Fibromyalgia affects as many as 5 million Americans ages 18 and older. Most people with fibromyalgia are women (about 80–90 percent). However, men and children also can have the disorder. Most people are diagnosed during middle age.
Fibromyalgia can occur by itself, but people with certain other diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other types of arthritis, may be more likely to have it. Individuals who have a close relative with fibromyalgia are more likely to develop it themselves.
The causes of fibromyalgia are not known. Researchers think a number of factors might be involved. Fibromyalgia can occur on its own, but has also been linked to:
People with fibromyalgia often see many doctors before being diagnosed. One reason for this may be that pain and fatigue, the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, also are symptoms of many other conditions. Therefore, doctors often must rule out other possible causes of these symptoms before diagnosing fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia cannot be found by a lab test.
A doctor who knows about fibromyalgia, however, can make a diagnosis based upon two criteria:
Your doctor may try to rule out other causes of your pain and fatigue. Testing for some of these things may make sense to you. For instance, you may find it reasonable that your doctor wants to rule out rheumatoid arthritis, since that disease also causes pain. Testing for other conditions — such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, or sleep apnea — may make less sense to you. But fibromyalgia can mimic or even overlap many other conditions. Talk with your doctor. He or she can help you understand what each test is for and how each test is part of making a final diagnosis.
Fibromyalgia can be hard to treat. It's important to find a doctor who has treated others with fibromyalgia. Many family doctors, general internists, or rheumatologists can treat fibromyalgia. Rheumatologists are doctors who treat arthritis and other conditions that affect the joints and soft tissues.
Treatment often requires a team approach. The team may include your doctor, a physical therapist, and possibly other health care providers. A pain or rheumatology clinic can be a good place to get treatment. Treatment for fibromyalgia may include the following:
Besides taking medicine prescribed by your doctor, there are many things you can do to lessen the impact of fibromyalgia on your life. These include:
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, meaning it lasts a long time — possibly a lifetime. However, it may be comforting to know that fibromyalgia is not a progressive disease. It is never fatal, and it will not cause damage to the joints, muscles, or internal organs. In many people, the condition does improve over time.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia are alike in many ways. In fact, it is not uncommon for a person to have both fibromyalgia and CFS. Some experts believe that fibromyalgia and CFS are in fact the same disorder, but expressed in slightly different ways. Both CFS and fibromyalgia have pain and fatigue as symptoms.
The main symptom of CFS is extreme tiredness. CFS often begins after having flu-like symptoms. But people with CFS do not have the tender points that people with fibromyalgia have. To be diagnosed with CFS, a person must have:
Many experts in fibromyalgia do not suggest patients go on disability. These experts have found that if patients stop working, they:
All of these things can make a patient feel more alone and depressed. These three things tend to make fibromyalgia symptoms worse. Deciding to go on disability is a hard choice that you should talk about with your doctor or nurse.
However, if you cannot work because of your fibromyalgia, contact the Social Security Administration for help with disability benefits. You may qualify for disability benefits through your employer or the Federal Government. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) are the largest Federal programs providing financial assistance to people with disabilities. Although the medical requirements for eligibility are the same under the two programs, the way they are funded is different. SSDI is paid by Social Security taxes, and those who qualify for assistance receive benefits based on how much they have paid into the system. SSI is funded by general tax revenues, and those who qualify receive payments based on financial need. For information about the SSDI and SSI programs, contact the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases sponsors research to help understand fibromyalgia and find better ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent it. Researchers are studying:
For more information about fibromyalgia, call the OWH Helpdesk at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the additional reviews by:
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Page last updated: June 12, 2017.
Content last reviewed: July 16, 2012.