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Fibromyalgia – When the Whole Body Aches

Updated on July 17, 2013

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia or fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance and depression. It is estimated that it affects 10 million people in the United States alone and around 3 to 6% of the world’s population affecting to up to 90% mostly women.

It nevertheless not clear to which medical discipline fibromyalgia ‘belongs’ to since although it is accepted as a diagnosis it is often linked to rheumatic diseases such as lupus and rheumatic arthritis, psychiatric disorders such as major depression and affective or psychosomatic disorders and neurological disorders since it is considered a neurobiological disorder that originates from the central nervous system.

Historically fibromyalgia has been around for centuries even though it has been newly recognized as an illness. In the past therefore fibromyalgia patients often suffered also from the prejudice of their doctors that dismissed their symptoms as being only of psychiatric nature. It was first described in 1600 as muscular rheumatism and obtained the name fibromyalgia in 1976. It was not until 1990 that diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia were developed by the American College of Rheumatology.

Common Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Morning stiffness


Waking up with aches that improve during the day


Memory impairment

Irritable bowel syndrome

Muscle spasms and muscle weakness



Genitourinary symptoms

Anxiety and Depression


It is often referred to as fibromyalgia syndrome because it can be characterized by a number or cluster of symptoms that are listed below. Pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia and may be characterized as a dull, deep pain or a sudden, burning pain.

Fibromyalgia patients identify several tender points that are painful when pressure is exerted on them these are found mostly around the shoulders, neck, chest, hips, back, and knees. Pain may be worst in the morning and is thought to be related to cold, damp weather but also stress.


There are several theories regarding the causes of fibromyalgia although no one knows exactly what causes it. Theories regarding the causes include genetics, infections, autoimmune process, and physical or emotional trauma.

One theory is the ‘central sensitization theory’ that suggests that the pain threshold in fibromyalgia patients is lower of the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. Recently however it has been discovered that nerve endings in blood vessels may be the cause of this syndrome that were previously thought only to regulate blood flow.


There are unfortunately no specific tests for fibromyalgia. It is usually based on the findings of the physical examination, patient history and self-reported presence of symptoms of pain for more than 3 months in all four regions of the body, as well tenderness in at least 11 out of 18 tender points (manual tender point examination).

Although common this illness often remains undiagnosed due to lack of education and information from doctors. Usually these patients are referred to specialists and the diagnosis is often costly and made through an elimination process of other illnesses.


Treatment depends on the severity of the condition as also on co morbidities. Exercise, heat, physical therapy, quitting smoking, a balanced diet, acupuncture are all lifestyle changes or methods that may be used to help relieve the pain. Psychological support through specialist therapy, but also support from family and friends, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and sleep management therapy may help soothe the pain symptoms.

The third approach to treatment of fibromyalgia is medication such as pregabalin, duloxetine, and minacipran. Low dose antidepressants, non-narcotic pain relievers and benzodiazepines may also be prescribed by health care professionals in order to improve also other symptoms of fibromyalgia such as depression or sleep disorders. Lidocaine injections in the tender points also seem to help ease the pain.

The information provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not advise also provided without any representations and no warranties whatsoever. The provided information should never substitute the consultation, opinion , diagnosis, and treatment options provided by a professional healthcare provider.


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