7 Fibromyalgia-Linked Conditions

About 4 million American adults have fibromyalgia—and they're likely to have other conditions, too.

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that usually entails "chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain and associated fatigue, sleep disturbances, and other cognitive and somatic symptoms," according to a March 2020 Annals of Internal Medicine article.

The breadth of symptoms puts those with fibromyalgia in the position to experience other health conditions. Here are seven potential accompanying ailments.

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A significant number of people with fibromyalgia also experience migraines and/or tension headaches, according to Robert Duarte, MD, director of the Pain Institute at the North Shore–Long Island Jewish Health System, in Manhasset, NY.

This may be due to both conditions affecting one another: Researchers of an April 2019 BMJ Open study determined that there was a bidirectional relationship between fibromyalgia and migraines.

The relationship may be a result of 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," Dr. Duarte said.

Antidepressants that target these brain chemicals may relieve migraine pain. Tension headaches may also respond to biofeedback—which is a type of treatment where people learn how to exercise control over involuntary body functions (e.g., heart rate) according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

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Autoimmune Diseases

People with inflammatory autoimmune diseases—including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, Sjögren's syndrome, and ankylosing spondylitis—can also experience fibromyalgia symptoms. Additionally, according to MedlinePlus, RA and other inflammatory diseases have been associated with an increased risk for fibromyalgia.

However, it is important to note that fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune, inflammatory, or arthritic disease: Abnormalities in the way the central nervous system processes pain has been identified as the primary factor for fibromyalgia, per a July 2022 Pathophysiology article.

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Restless Legs

Sleeplessness and other sleep problems are common for fibromyalgia patients, said Lesley Arnold, MD, a psychiatrist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Restless legs, or the overwhelming urge to move your legs when resting, may be up to 11 times more common in people with fibromyalgia than those without it. Additionally, researchers of a 2016 Turkish Journal of Neurology study found that, in patients with moderate to severe symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS), the frequency of fibromyalgia was 36.7%.

Further, fibromyalgia treatments also improve restless legs—not to mention overall sleep quality.

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is marked by abdominal cramps and bouts of constipation and/or diarrhea.

"Like fibromyalgia, IBS is a pain syndrome," Dr. Arnold said. As is the case with fibromyalgia and migraines, the relationship between fibromyalgia and IBS is said to work both ways, according to a December 2020 Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology study.

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Pelvic Pain

The NLM listed fibromyalgia as a possible musculoskeletal cause for chronic pelvic pain.

In an August 2015 Pain Management Nursing study, researchers found a positive correlation between fibromyalgia and pelvic pain: Women with severe experiences of fibromyalgia indicated more severe symptoms related to pelvic pain.

Also, people with fibromyalgia are more likely to report pelvic pain, bladder irritability, and menstrual cramps, and some of the medicines that relieve fibromyalgia symptoms can also ease these other pains.

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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.

Researchers of a December 2018 Neuropsychopharmacology Reports study discovered that 96.9% of Japanese patients with fibromyalgia also had comorbid issues related to mental health.

"It is less of a causal or chicken-and-egg relationship," Dr. Arnold sai. "[But] they may share common, underlying causes."

A deficit of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine is involved in both mood and pain disorders, Dr. Arnold added. Many medications used to treat fibromyalgia are also antidepressants, according to a March 2021 US Pharmacist article.

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A February 2022 Medicine study looked at the relationship between fibromyalgia and obesity. The researchers found that— compared to the participants' counterparts in the study—premenopausal patients who were also obese reported high scores suggesting that fibromyalgia had a significant impact on their lives.

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

Many people with fibromyalgia lead sedentary lives due to their chronic pain, and a lack of regular physical activity increases their risk of becoming overweight or obese.

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

Ultimately, if you find yourself dealing with more than just fibromyalgia, it's always good to report your symptoms to your healthcare provider.

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