What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes symptoms such as widespread pain throughout your body, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. The symptoms tend to come and go, and certain factors like stress or weather changes can trigger a flare-up (or, a period where symptoms are most active). Currently, researchers don't know the exact cause of fibromyalgia but certain risk factors, like being born female or having arthritis, can increase your odds of developing the condition. 

The good news: fibromyalgia can be well-managed with treatment. Experts estimate that fibromyalgia affects 2% of the population or about 4 million adults in the United States each year. That's why knowing the symptoms and learning when to seek treatment are so essential.


Fibromyalgia symptoms often vary from person to person. The most common symptom is widespread pain. Most people describe the pain to be burning, throbbing, or stabbing. It's also common to experience muscle aches and joint stiffness. Some people with the condition also experience headaches, migraine, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain in their jaw.

Most commonly, fibromyalgia causes pain in the following body parts:

  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Head
  • Chest
  • Abdomen
  • Back
  • Buttocks 

In addition to pain and tenderness, you may experience the following symptoms:


Fibromyalgia occurs when your body’s nervous system becomes more sensitive to pain signals. Researchers believe people with this condition experience pain differently than those without it. Some theories suggest that changes in your neural pathways that send pain messages to your brain may cause an increased sensitivity to pain. 

While the exact cause of the condition is still being studied, experts suggest that a combination of genetics and an environmental trigger may increase your risk of developing the condition. Researchers know that fibromyalgia tends to run in families—therefore, if you have a parent or sibling with the condition, you are more likely to develop it yourself. Additionally, people with fibromyalgia often experience an environmental event such as injury, stress, or trauma that can trigger symptoms. 

Risk Factors

Researchers aren’t sure what causes increased pain sensitivity but believe certain factors may raise the risk. You might be at an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia if you:

  • Were assigned female at birth
  • Are over the age of 40 years old
  • Have a family history of fibromyalgia 
  • Are highly sensitive to pain
  • Have a history of stressful or traumatic events
  • Experienced injuries (e.g., a broken bone or muscle tear)

Certain health conditions may also increase your risk of developing fibromyalgia. These conditions include:  

Causes of Fibromyalgia Flare-Ups

It is common for fibromyalgia symptoms to come and go. Possible causes of symptom flare-ups may include:

  • Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle or pregnancy
  • Stress
  • Weather changes


Currently, there is no official diagnostic test that can diagnose fibromyalgia. Instead, the diagnostic process usually involves several tests that rule out other possible causes of your chronic pain. 

First, your healthcare provider will start by taking a detailed medical history, making sure to ask about your symptoms, family history, lifestyle habits, and recent events. Once they learn more about your symptoms, they will conduct a physical exam to feel for pressure points on your body and note if they feel tender to the touch. 

Many providers use certain criteria to diagnose fibromyalgia. To receive a diagnosis for fibromyalgia, most providers will look for the following symptoms that are present for at least three months:

  • Pain and tenderness at certain pressure points throughout your body
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Memory or concentration problems

If the physical exam and medical history alone aren't able to give your provider a conclusive diagnosis, they can order additional tests to rule out other conditions. These tests include:

  • Blood tests to rule out a rheumatic or thyroid disease 
  • X-ray to rule out injury


Unfortunately, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. Instead, the goal of treatment is to relieve the symptoms gradually over time. If you receive a diagnosis for fibromyalgia, your primary care provider will likely work with a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in the joints, muscles, and bones), a physical therapist, a mental health professional, and a sleep specialist. These providers will be known as your care team.

Your care team can recommend several treatment options including medications, physical exercise, psychotherapy, and complementary treatments.

Your options for medication may include antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and pain medications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three drugs to treat fibromyalgia:

  • Cymbalta (duloxetine)
  • Savella (milnacipran)
  • Lyrica (pregabalin)

It's important to note that opioids or narcotic drugs are not recommended for the treatment of fibromyalgia. These medications are not meant for long-term use and have not been proven helpful for fibromyalgia pain. 

In addition to medications, psychological and behavioral therapy is an integral part of treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to change the way you think about and perceive your pain. This therapy has been found to be effective when combined with medication and other treatments. 

Additionally, your care team may also recommend the following complementary remedies to help you better manage your symptoms:

  • Daily physical exercise
  • Yoga 
  • Tai chi 
  • Acupuncture
  • Acupressure 
  • Massage
  • Hypnosis 

How to Prevent Fibromyalgia Flares

There is no known cause of fibromyalgia so there is no surefire way to prevent the condition. However, there are steps that you can take to prevent a flare-up if you have already received a diagnosis for fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia pain and tenderness may be triggered by emotional stress. To lower the risk of a flare, it may be helpful to regularly meet with a mental health professional to learn stress management techniques, such as:

  • Eating a nutritious diet
  • Getting enough sleep at night
  • Participating in gentle daily exercise
  • Practicing deep breathing or meditation
  • Doing hobbies and activities that you enjoy
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Journaling your thoughts

Comorbid Conditions

There are certain conditions that you may be at a higher risk of experiencing when you have fibromyalgia. These conditions include:

  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
  • Ankylosing spondylitis 

Unfortunately, adults with fibromyalgia are three times more likely to have major depression and are also more likely to die by suicide. 

Looking for support?

If you are experiencing a crisis, or know someone who is, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for free and confidential support 24/7. You can also visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources or call the number below to reach Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline.

(800) 662-4357

Living With Fibromyalgia

While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, it is still possible to live a healthy life with the condition. This condition can significantly affect your quality of life, so taking control where you can helps. 

Tips for living well with fibromyalgia include:

  • Physical exercise: Research shows that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia. It can also improve poor sleep, anxiety, and depression symptoms. Focus on gentle movements like walking, biking, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, and tai chi.
  • Emotional support: Working with a therapy or support group can improve both pain and stress levels. 
  • Pace yourself: It is important to pace yourself throughout the day to prevent increased pain and fatigue. Overdoing it can make your symptoms worse, so it's vital to take it easy and only do what you can comfortably.
  • Sleep hygiene: Fibromyalgia causes sleep problems, so focusing on getting good quality sleep can greatly improve your symptoms. Aim to keep the same sleep and wake schedule each day. Avoid watching TV or looking at your phone in bed. It may also help to keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, and comfortable before bedtime.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does having fibromyalgia qualify me for disability?

    Yes, it is possible that a diagnosis of fibromyalgia may qualify you for disability. There are certain criteria that you must meet in order to qualify for social security disability benefits. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to apply for disability.

  • Does fibromyalgia show up in blood tests?

    No, there is no blood test that can diagnose fibromyalgia. It is common to have blood tests during the diagnosis process in order to rule out other conditions that may also cause pain and fatigue. Blood tests can detect thyroid disease, arthritis, and other chronic conditions. 

  • What autoimmune diseases mimic fibromyalgia?

    There are certain autoimmune diseases that cause widespread pain. If your healthcare provider suspects that you have fibromyalgia, they will likely run tests to rule out autoimmune diseases. These conditions may include:

    • Osteoarthritis 
    • Rheumatoid arthritis 
    • Systemic lupus erythematosus
    • Ankylosing spondylitis
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6 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Fibromyalgia.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fibromyalgia.

  3. MedlinePlus. Fibromyalgia.

  4. American College of Rheumatology. Fibromyalgia.

  5. Office on Women’s Health. Fibromyalgia.

  6. Social Security Administration. Policy interpretation ruling. Federal Register. 2012;77(143): 43640).

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