7 Fibromyalgia-Related Conditions

About 4 million adults in the United States have fibromyalgia, and they're also likely to have these conditions.

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that usually causes chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and emotional and mental distress. People with fibromyalgia may be more sensitive to pain than others.

Fibromyalgia affects about four million adults in the United States, nearly 2% of the adult population. The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. Still, people with the condition can effectively treat and manage their symptoms.

Although fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease, symptoms resemble some autoimmune diseases, like being tired and having pain. Also, the range of symptoms puts those with fibromyalgia at risk of other health conditions.

Here are seven of the most common co-occurring health conditions with fibromyalgia.

Chronic Migraine

Fibromyalgia and migraines are strongly connected. In fact, people with fibromyalgia are more likely to develop chronic migraine as they age. According to a study published in 2019 in the BMJ Open, the conditions share a bidirectional relationship.

Brain Chemicals Causing Migraines

The link between fibromyalgia and chronic migraine may result from changes among chemical messengers in the body of people with fibromyalgia. 

"An underlying disturbance in the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine plays a role in causing headaches and fibromyalgia," Robert Duarte, MD, a board-certified neurologist specializing in pain and headache medicine, told Health.

Treatments for Migraines

Antidepressants that target those brain chemicals may relieve migraine pain. Also, tension headaches may respond to biofeedback. Biofeedback is a treatment where people learn how to exercise control over involuntary body functions, like heart rate.

Autoimmune Diseases

Inflammatory autoimmune diseases also commonly co-occur with fibromyalgia. Those autoimmune diseases include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Lupus
  • Sjögren's syndrome
  • Ankylosing spondylitis

Some evidence suggests that RA and other inflammatory autoimmune diseases increase the risk of fibromyalgia.

However, keep in mind that fibromyalgia is not an inflammatory autoimmune disease. Instead, researchers have identified abnormalities in how the central nervous system processes pain as the main cause of fibromyalgia.

Sleep Problems

Sleeplessness and other sleep disturbances are common among people with fibromyalgia, Lesley Arnold, MD, a psychiatrist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, told Health.

In particular, some evidence suggests that nearly 90% of people with fibromyalgia have sleep problems. Painful symptoms adversely affect sleep quality, including duration and efficiency. Poor sleep quality leads to daytime sleepiness, which can negatively impact the quality of life.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is the overwhelming urge to move your legs when resting, causing sleep disturbances. One study published in 2016 in the Turkish Journal Of Neurology found that in people with moderate-to-severe symptoms of RLS, the frequency of fibromyalgia was about 37%.

Fibromyalgia treatments also help with RLS, which may improve sleep quality.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes abdominal cramps and bouts of constipation, diarrhea, or both. As with fibromyalgia and migraines, the relationship between fibromyalgia and IBS is said to work both ways.

In one study published in 2017 in Medicine, researchers linked fibromyalgia to a 1.54-fold increased risk for IBS after adjusting for age, sex, and comorbidities.

Pelvic Pain

Fibromyalgia is a possible musculoskeletal cause of chronic pelvic pain. Research has found a positive correlation between fibromyalgia and pelvic pain. According to one study published in 2015 in Pain Management Nursing, women with severe fibromyalgia showed severe pelvic pain.

In addition to pelvic pain, people with fibromyalgia are more likely to report symptoms such as bladder irritability and menstrual cramps. Some medicines that relieve fibromyalgia symptoms can also ease those ailments.

Depression and Anxiety

More than half of people with fibromyalgia experience mental or emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety, at some point in their lives.

For example, a study published in 2018 in Neuropsychopharmacology Reports found that of the people studied, nearly 97% of those with fibromyalgia also had co-occurring mental health conditions.

"[Fibromyalgia and mental health conditions] may share common, underlying causes," explained Dr. Arnold. A deficit of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine is involved in pain and mood disorders, added Dr. Arnold. Therefore, many medicines that treat fibromyalgia are also antidepressants.

Obesity

"Obesity and fibromyalgia share a complicated relationship, and it's one that we can't ignore," said Dr. Arnold.

Many people with fibromyalgia lead sedentary lives due to chronic pain. A lack of regular physical activity can increase their risk of becoming overweight or obese. Also, being overweight can aggravate symptoms of fibromyalgia. 

"Being overweight places more mechanical stress on your joints, which can cause more pain and aggravate fibromyalgia," explained Dr. Arnold.

However, research has found that exercise may help alleviate pain in people with fibromyalgia. One study published in 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that women with fibromyalgia who reported low-intensity physical activity had less pain, fatigue, and anxiety levels.

A Quick Review

Fibromyalgia is a painful condition that causes sleep problems, fatigue, and emotional and mental distress. People with fibromyalgia can also experience other chronic conditions. 

Ultimately, if you find yourself dealing with more than just fibromyalgia, discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider.

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