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What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal discomfort and tenderness as well as other intrusive symptoms. It causes symptoms very similar to arthritis in many cases. 

But, unlike arthritis, fibromyalgia isn’t autoimmune or inflammatory. Current research indicates central nervous system involvement, and the American College of Rheumatology calls fibromyalgia a neurological condition. 

Having diseases like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and spondyloarthritis increases the risk of fibromyalgia. The vast majority of people with fibromyalgia are female, but men sometimes develop the condition as well. 

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Pain throughout your body is the main symptom of fibromyalgia. The pain often occurs around joints, which is why it's sometimes mistaken for arthritis. In addition to widespread pain, fibromyalgia may cause:

  • Severe exhaustion
  • Extreme tenderness to touch
  • Fibro fog – forgetfulness, poor concentration, reduced comprehension
  • Poor sleep
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Severe pain during menstruation
  • Migraines or stress headaches
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) 
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder 
  • Overactive bladder

Some people also have other symptoms. But, overall discomfort in multiple areas with fatigue are the telltale symptoms of fibromyalgia.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

A rheumatologist performs a full-body exam and extensive review of your symptoms to diagnose fibromyalgia. There are no lab tests to definitively identify fibromyalgia, but because it can mimic other conditions, you may need blood tests or X-rays to eliminate other reasons for your symptoms. 

What is the best treatment plan for fibromyalgia symptoms?

In most cases, fibromyalgia responds best to a combination of medication and non-drug approaches.

Non-drug fibromyalgia treatment

Aerobic exercise, including walking, swimming, and biking, can greatly reduce fibromyalgia pain. Some people experience good results from yoga as well. Symptom management strategies can also be important for fibromyalgia sufferers. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness stress reduction are two effective options for some people.