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Fibromyalgia

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic (long-lasting) condition that causes pain in a person's muscles, joints, and other soft tissues. The pain is widespread — meaning the person feels pain all over their body. People with fibromyalgia (pronounced: fy-bro-my-AL-ja) also might get headaches a lot, feel tired, and have trouble sleeping.

If you have fibromyalgia, you're not alone. It affects millions of people in the United States.

Even though fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, symptoms don't always stay the same. Sometimes the pain or tired feeling can be mild. Other times they’re serious enough to interfere with life. Teens with fibromyalgia may go to school regularly, but what they are able to do depends on how severe their symptoms are.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia. But doctors can treat the pain and other symptoms so they're not as bad.

What Happens When Someone Has Fibromyalgia?

Teens with fibromyalgia may:

  • have pain throughout their bodies. Usually, it’s dull or burning, but it can be more of a shooting or throbbing pain.
  • get many headaches
  • feel very tired or have little energy. Because of this, fibromyalgia might be confused with chronic fatigue syndrome. Sometimes people can have both conditions.

Most teens with fibromyalgia also have trouble sleeping. They may wake up often during the night and feel exhausted in the morning. They also can have problems like restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea, which can add to their sleep problems.

People with fibromyalgia might notice problems with memory or concentration. Some may be anxious or depressed. Some also have irritable bowel syndrome, a kind of digestive problem.

After a while, people might notice that certain things make their pain and other symptoms worse. For some, it might be stress. For others, it could be cold, damp weather. Everyone's different.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Doctors aren't really sure why people get fibromyalgia. They do know that their brains sense pain differently and might sense it in response to things (like stress) that normally aren't painful.

Many experts believe that outside events — like illness, injuries, or emotional trauma — can play a role in fibromyalgia. Because fibromyalgia can run in families, it's also possible that genes may increase a person's risk for it.

How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

Because fibromyalgia is a cluster of different symptoms, it's not always easy to diagnose.

There's no specific test for fibromyalgia. So doctors might do tests to rule out other conditions or problems. For example, feeling very tired can be a sign of a thyroid problem. So a doctor may do thyroid tests. If the tests show a person's thyroid is normal, the doctor will know something else is causing the problem.

A doctor will ask about a person's medical history and symptoms, and do an exam. If there is no sign of other health problems, and the patient has had widespread pain for at least 3 months, doctors may decide it's fibromyalgia.

Diagnosing fibromyalgia can take a while (sometimes years). That can get pretty frustrating. Don't give up. You may need to find a doctor who has experience with the condition.

How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?

There's no cure for fibromyalgia. But treatment can help manage symptoms, ease pain, and improve a person's overall health and quality of life. Treatments include lifestyle changes and medicines.

Doctors usually ask people to start with lifestyle changes before turning to medicines. Changes doctors may recommend include:

  • Regular exercise. Exercise may increase pain at first, but it can help make things better when done gradually and regularly. Some people get help from a physical therapist. Stretching and relaxation exercises (like yoga) can also help.
  • Stress-relief methods. These can include yoga, t'ai chi, and other disciplines, as well as light massage, breathing exercises, and acupuncture.
  • More sleep. Getting enough sleep is one of the most effective ways to treat fibromyalgia. It can help to avoid caffeine, sugary beverages, and sugary snacks late in the day. It can also help to go to bed and get up at the same time each day and limit napping during the daytime.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices. Eating healthy foods can help with fibromyalgia. Doing things you love can help too. Hobbies and other activities not only make people feel good about themselves, they also can distract them from the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

If lifestyle changes don't help on their own, a doctor may prescribe medicines such as:

  • antidepressants: some can ease pain and tiredness, and help with sleep
  • anti-seizure medicines: some medicines used to treat epilepsy also can treat fibromyalgia symptoms

Therapy also helps with fibromyalgia. A psychotherapist or counselor can help people learn how to deal with difficult emotions, recognize what makes fibromyalgia symptoms worse, and take action to keep those symptoms in check.

If you have fibromyalgia, it can help to join a support group or online community for people living with the condition. That way, you can share what you're going through with people who know what it's like. To find information and support online, visit:

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021