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6 Common Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Updated on January 14, 2017

Fibromyalgia is a medical condition that causes sleep issues, fatigue, widespread pain and psychological distress. It is estimated that approximately five million Americans are affected by fibromyalgia, according to the National Institute of Arthritis[R1] and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Of those diagnosed, most are middle aged women.

Fibromyalgia pain[R2] can be misdiagnosed because its symptoms are comparable to other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, hypothyroidism and sleep apnea. Because of this, it is essential that you understand the six most common symptoms of fibromyalgia and how they can affect you.


Pain is the most common complaint associated with fibromyalgia. The pain can be felt in tender points located throughout the body as well as deep within the muscles. Research suggests that the hypersensitivity experienced by fibromyalgia sufferers is due to a glitch in how the body process pain. This is thought to be caused by reduced blood flow to the brain that controls how pain is dealt with.

Pain can occur in the soft tissues in the body, including the muscles, tendons and ligaments. The pain can be described as throbbing, stabbing, burning aching or shooting pain. The pain often occurs early in the morning or whenever a person has been at rest for a while. Muscles can knot and feel rope-like. When the area is pressed, it can cause pain to radiate to other areas in the body.

There are nine sets of trigger points used to diagnose fibromyalgia. These include the back of the neck, the front of the neck, the elbows, the hips, the knees, the shoulders, the upper back, the chest and the lower back. When these areas are pressed, the fibromyalgia patient will experience pain. For a proper diagnosis, at least 11 tender points must cause pain strong enough to cause the person to pull back or flinch.

Sleep Difficulties

The National Sleep Foundation reports that fibromyalgia pain and sleep issues go hand in hand. For example, those suffering from fibromyalgia have difficulty falling asleep due to pain. When a fibromyalgia sufferer does not get ample sleep, their pain can be exacerbated. Furthermore, fibromyalgia sufferers may experience alterations in their slow wave sleep patterns, which can decrease their pain tolerance, resulting in even greater pain. Sleep difficulties can also contribute to increased fatigue, crankiness, depression, anxiety, cognitive problems and digestive disorders.

Developing healthy sleep patterns can help relieve sleep difficulties. First, the patient must prioritize their sleep by maintaining a regular sleep schedule. This means going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. Keep your bedroom cool to promote undisturbed sleep. Use a white noise machine to mask noise and create a quiet environment for sleep. Limit your caffeine intake to two servings a day and do not consume any caffeine after noon.

Cognitive Issues

Fibromyalgia patients can experience short-term memory problems, confusion, long-term memory problems, forgetfulness, short attention spans, transposition of letters and numbers and word and number recall difficulties. These cognitive difficulties are referred to as fibro fog. These cognitive issues can become so severe that they can affect daily living. Research has shown that these cognitive problems may be related to imbalances in the central nervous system.

Digestive Problems

Fibromyalgia can cause a change in bowel habit that can include constipation and diarrhea. Sufferers also complain of abdominal pain, bloating, gut permeability, decreased enzyme production and an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Eating small meals, taking a probiotic and opting for organic whole foods may help relieve the digestive symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.

In addition to these symptoms, fibromyalgia patients often experience food intolerances, especially dairy products. Fibromyalgia patients often suffer from lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance. These occur when the digestive system no longer produces the enzymes necessary to break down dairy and gluten. Limiting or removing dairy products and foods that contain gluten can alleviate many of the digestive issues experienced by fibromyalgia sufferers.


Fatigue in fibromyalgia sufferers can be overwhelming. This fatigue can be crippling at times. Even after hours of bed rest the sufferer may experience exhausting fatigue that is not relieved with sleep or rest. Between the unending pain experienced by sufferers and the sleep difficulties, patients are left feeling, weak, tired and complete exhausted.

The level of fatigue a patient is experiencing can intensify the pain levels experienced by the sufferer. Stress, cold, drafty weather, changes in the weather, stress, hormonal fluctuations and overexertion can all contribute to the level of stress experienced by a sufferer.

Psychological Issues

Patients suffering from fibromyalgia will tell you that living in chronic pain and suffering from fatigue can be overwhelming. Oftentimes, sufferers are unable to enjoy activities with their family and friends, resulting in social isolation. This, coupled with anxiety over pain and fatigue can lead to clinical depression and anxiety.

The signs of depression in fibromyalgia include feelings of irritability, hopelessness, guilt, loss of interest, sadness, anxiety, uncontrollable crying, difficulty making decisions, decreased energy, concentration difficulties and thoughts of suicide or death.

Fibromyalgia can cause a host of symptoms that are similar to other conditions, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, sleep apnea and hypothyroidism. For this reason, it is essential to let your doctor know which symptoms you are experiencing. Your doctor will complete a physical exam that includes trigger point testing and several other tests to rule out other conditions.

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