Fibromyalgia is a rheumatic condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness in muscles and soft tissues all over the body. It has been called central pain amplification disorder, suggesting that the volume of pain sensation in the brain is turned up too high.
Fibromyalgia is also associated with fatigue, sleep problems, cognitive problems and a host of other symptoms.
Fibromyalgia affects an estimated 5 million people aged 18 or older in the United States —and as many as 90 percent of them are women. In fact, it is most common in middle-aged women.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, which means it is persistent and long-lasting. Fortunately, it doesn't damage muscles or bones.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia can look like other conditions, such as arthritis (joint inflammation) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid disease), which must first be ruled out before a fibromyalgia diagnosis can be made. Also, there are no lab tests specifically for diagnosing fibromyalgia, only for ruling out other conditions.
In addition, people with fibromyalgia tend to look healthy and conventional lab tests typically are normal. So it’s important to see a specialist who is knowledgeable about fibromyalgia in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis and guide appropriate treatment.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Fibromyalgia?
Cooper University Health Care has a skilled team of board-certified specialists who have extensive expertise in diagnosing and managing fibromyalgia. You can count on us because:
- We adhere to established national standards for diagnosing fibromyalgia: This ensures that you receive an objective, evidence-based evaluation for an accurate diagnosis
- We recommend treatment tailored to your unique needs: While there’s no cure for fibromyalgia, symptoms can be managed with a combination of treatments, including:
- Physical exercise including low-impact aerobic exercise, and movement therapies such as yoga and tai chi
- Cognitive behavioral therapy and related treatments, such as mindfulness, can help you learn symptom-reduction skills that reduce pain
- Integrative medicine therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and massage therapy can be helpful in managing fibromyalgia symptoms
- Management of fibromyalgia triggers such as sleep disorders, stress, anxiety and depression, which may involve other specialists
- Medications that work by changing certain brain chemicals that help control pain levels or block the over-activity of nerve cells involved in pain transmission. Antidepressants may also help with depression associated with fibromyalgia.
- We take a multidisciplinary team approach to care—Cooper has experts in more than 75 specialties, giving you access to all the expertise you need, all in one place.
- For fibromyalgia, this may include pain management, and physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists.
- We also work closely with your primary care physician, who generally will manage your fibromyalgia on an ongoing basis.
Fibromyalgia Causes and Risk Factors
What causes fibromyalgia is unclear, and may vary from person to person. We know that it’s not from an autoimmune, inflammation, joint or muscle disorder. The latest research suggests that the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) is involved.
Often, something triggers the onset of fibromyalgia. It may be an acute illness or injury, or other type of physical stress on the body. Emotional stress may also be a trigger.
As a result, there’s a change in the way the body communicates with the spinal cord and brain, and levels of certain brain chemicals and proteins may change.
The risk factors for fibromyalgia include:
- Age: While fibromyalgia can affect people of all ages, most are diagnosed during middle age
- Gender: Women are several times more likely to have fibromyalgia as men
- Having lupus [LINK to Lupus condition page] or rheumatoid arthritis [LINK to RA condition page]: You are more likely to develop fibromyalgia if you have either of these autoimmune conditions
- Stressful or traumatic events: Events such as car accidents or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been linked to some cases of fibromyalgia
- Genetics: Certain genes can make people more prone to getting fibromyalgia. Genes alone do not cause this condition, however.
- Heredity: Fibromyalgia may run in families, among siblings or mothers and their children
- Obesity: In some cases, excess weight appears to increase the risk of developing fibromyalgia
While each person’s symptoms may vary, chronic pain is the most common symptom. The pain most often affects the muscles, and the ligaments and tendons where muscles attach to bones.
Pain may begin in one part of the body, such as the neck and shoulders. Over time, the entire body may be affected. The pain ranges from mild to severe, and may be characterized as burning, soreness, stiffness, aching or gnawing pain.
You may have sore spots in certain parts of your muscles. The pain may be worse in the morning and evening; other times, it may last all day long. The pain may get worse with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety and stress.
Other common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Lowered exercise endurance
- Sleep problems
- Depressed mood
- Irritable bowel symptoms, such as abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea and constipation
- Restless legs at night
- Painful menstrual periods
- Trouble thinking clearly (called "fibro fog")
Because these symptoms can be associated with other health conditions, it’s important to see a fibromyalgia expert for an accurate diagnosis.
Living with Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, but you can manage your symptoms by working with your healthcare provider and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, including:
- Get adequate sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce stress
- Pace yourself/don’t do too much
- Eat a healthy diet
Make an Appointment with a Fibromyalgia Expert at Cooper