Fibromyalgia (fi-bro-my-AL-ja) is a chronic * disorder that causes generalized aching, stiffness, and fatigue in the muscles and joints.
Fibromyalgia was once called fibrositis (fi-bro-SY-tis). Fibromyalgia means pain in the muscles and joints * . Three to six million Americans are thought to be affected by fibromyalgia. It occurs mostly in women age 50 years and older. Fibromyalgia is found throughout the world, among all ethnic groups. It is only rarely seen in children.
As of 2015, researchers had been unable to identify the cause of fibromyalgia, but they have put forth several theories. One was that fibromyalgia is caused by injury to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), which sends messages to the muscles. A second theory was that biochemical changes in muscle tissue cause fatigue and loss of strength. A third theory suggested that fibromyalgia may be caused by a virus. Some patients with fibromyalgia have psychological problems, but it is unclear whether there is any relationship between the psychological state and the physical condition.
Fibromyalgia begins gradually. The main symptom is pain in the muscles and joints. The pain moves around but is most common in the neck, chest, arms, legs, hips, and back. In addition, patients may complain of headaches, tiredness, sleep disorders, digestive disturbances, anxiety, or depression.
Fibromyalgia can be frustrating to diagnose for both the doctor and the patient. The muscles hurt, but they look normal. Blood and x-ray tests are also normal. The symptoms can resemble those of a variety of illnesses, including infections, and the doctor needs to rule out such possibilities. Fibromyalgia also shares similarities with chronic fatigue syndrome *
A doctor who suspects fibromyalgia will reassure the patient that the condition does not harm the muscles. The most effective treatment is a combination of exercise, medication (sometimes including antidepressant medications * ), physical therapy, and relaxation. Other approaches, such as massage and acupuncture, do not seem to be particularly helpful. There is no known way to prevent the condition.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder, which means that the symptoms may get better or worse but can last for months or years. Many communities have support groups for patients with fibromyalgia.
Because fibromyalgia is a source of serious disability for many people, organizations such as the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases sponsor research to help diagnose, treat, and prevent it. For example, researchers study how structures of the brain are involved in the painful symptoms of fibromyalgia. They also use sophisticated imaging technologies to study how the muscles perform.
See also Arthritis • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. “High-Pressure Oxygen Can Effectively Treat Fibromyalgia.” ScienceDaily, July 14, 2015. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150714124907.htm (accessed December 7, 2015).
Clauw, Daniel J., Lesley M. Arnold, and Bill H. McCarberg. “The Science of Fibromyalgia.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 86, 9 (2011): 907–11. Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3258006/ (accessed December 7, 2015).
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health. “Questions and Answers about Fibromyalgia.” http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/fibromyalgia (accessed December 7, 2015).
American College of Rheumatology. 1800 Century Pl., Suite 250, Atlanta, GA 30345-4300. Telephone: 404-633-3777. Website: http://www.rheumatology.org (accessed December 7, 2015).
Arthritis Foundation. PO Box 7669, Atlanta, GA 30357-0669. Toll-free: 800-283-7800. Website: http://www.arthritis.org (accessed December 7, 2015).
Fibromyalgia Network. PO Box 31750, Tucson, AZ 85751. Telephone: 520-290-5508. Website: http://www.fmnetnews.com (accessed December 7, 2015).
National Fibromyalgia Association. 1000 Bristol St. N. Suite 17-247, Newport Beach, CA 92660. Website: http://www.fmaware.org (accessed December 7, 2015).
* chronic (KRAH-nik) lasting a long time or recurring frequently.
* joints are places in the body where two bones fit together in such a way as to allow motion.
* chronic fatigue syndrome (KRON-ik fat-TEEG) is a debilitating and complicated disorder in which individuals feel intense fatigue that lasts six months or longer. Symptoms may include insomnia, muscle pain, and impaired concentration. Because other illnesses have these symptoms, doctors must rule out a number of conditions in order to make a diagnosis.
* antidepressant medications are used for the treatment and prevention of depression.