What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition marked by aching and pain in muscles, tendons, and joints all over the body, especially along the spine.

Some people who have fibromyalgia have definite changes in function and body chemistry. These changes may be responsible for certain symptoms. However, fibromyalgia is not associated with muscle, nerve, or joint injury; inadequate muscle repair; or any serious bodily damage or disease. Also, people who have fibromyalgia are not at greater risk for any other musculoskeletal disease.

Fig. 1

When stress continues without relief, your body doesn't have time to relax or prepare for the next challenge. This is called distress. As you can see in Figure 1, distress can trigger a number of physical reactions and lead to the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Who is affected by fibromyalgia?

In the United States, 2 to 4% of women and men have fibromyalgia. Women tend to have fibromyalgia more often than men.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. There are, however, many theories about why people get fibromyalgia, including stress (see Figure 1).

When fibromyalgia begins, there are many stresses in a person's life. Stress often causes disturbed sleep patterns and a lack of restful sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, your body does not produce the chemicals necessary to control or regulate pain. This causes tenderness in the upper back and forearms and leads to the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Physical and emotional factors may also play a role in fibromyalgia. For example, a physical illness (such as an infection) could cause changes in your body chemistry that lead to pain and sleeplessness.

When you are sick, you may worry about your health and become anxious, depressed, or inactive. These emotional factors could make your symptoms worse and aggravate fibromyalgia.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain. Other symptoms are often related to the pain, including:

  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Depression.
  • Tiredness during the daytime.
  • Headaches.
  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation.
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
  • Feelings of weakness.
  • Having difficulty remembering.
  • Dizziness.
  • Increased sensitivity to light, odors, and sounds.