What is Fibromyalgia?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic painful condition that leads to pain at specific tender points or all over the body.

The condition is associated with extreme fatigue and other symptoms such as sleep disturbances, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, muscle pain and stiffness etc.

Where does the term ‘fibromyalgia’ originate?

The term fibromyalgia is derived from three words – “fibro” is a Latin word meaning fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments that connect bones to muscles and bones respectively.

The middle part “my” is derived from the word “myo” meaning muscles.

The word “algia” refers to pain.

The word literally means pain in the fibrous tissues. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome of multiple symptoms rather than just pain.

Who does fibromyalgia affect?

Fibromyalgia has a worldwide presence affecting nearly 1 in 20 people globally. In England and Wales there are nearly 1.76 million adults with the condition.

In the United States nearly 2–10% of the general population of all ages are affected by this condition.

Although men may be affected by this condition, women are seen to be seven times more likely to develop fibromyalgia.

The condition develops commonly between 30 and 60 years of age but may affect children and the elderly.

Causes of fibromyalgia

The exact cause of this condition is not known; however, the pain pathways, hormonal changes and immune system disturbances have all been studied and found in patients with fibromyalgia. This suggests a deeper and multifactorial causation of the condition.

Diagnosis of fibromyalgia

The condition may often be a challenge to diagnose. This is because there are no clear cut sensitive tests that diagnose the condition with conviction.

Much of the diagnosis is based on detailed examination of the patient and presence of symptoms.

Diagnosis is also made by ruling out other conditions that may mimic fibromyalgia.

Treatments

There is no cure for this painful condition and treatment aims at reducing and alleviating the symptoms to as much extent as possible.


The symptoms vary in severity among individuals and sometimes may disrupt the daily functioning of the patient. Overall the treatment involves:-

  • There are several antidepressants and pain relievers that have been tried with success in fibromyalgia.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy or counselling is part of treating fibromyalgia and may be used with success
  • Meditation, regular exercise and a healthy balanced diet to maintain a healthy body weight is advised as lifestyle changes that benefit fibromyalgia patient. Exercise in particular benefits patients with fibromyalgia to a great extent.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 6, 2013

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