This information describes fibromyalgia (fie-bro-my-AL-juh), including the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition. It causes:

  • Pain in your muscles, ligaments, and tendons
  • Fatigue
  • Thought and mood disturbances

Fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men.

Causes

The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown. Some possibilities are:

  • Poor quality sleep
  • Having other family members with fibromyalgia
  • A problem in your nervous system
  • A problem with your immune system in which your body attacks its own tissue (autoimmune response)
  • Other medical conditions, such as depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Result of an infection, such as hepatitis or Lyme's disease
  • Result of accidents or injuries

Symptoms

The most common symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread, chronic body pain. The level of pain can vary, and can be described as:

  • Aching
  • Tingling
  • Soreness
  • Throbbing
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Burning

Poor sleep, intense physical activity, exposure to cold, anxiety, or stress can make symptoms worse. Some people with fibromyalgia say that their joints feel swollen. However, signs of swelling or redness are usually not seen.

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can worsen over time. Early on, you may only feel discomfort in one area of your body. As time goes on, you may feel it in many areas.

Many people with fibromyalgia also have:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Migraine headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Depression
  • Discomfort in the abdomen and bladder

Diagnosis

There are no specific tests used to diagnose fibromyalgia. Your doctor will diagnose you based on your symptoms and a physical exam. He or she may order blood work or x-ray exams to rule out other possibilities.

Fibromyalgia is diagnosed when a person has widespread, chronic pain for at least 3 months with no clear evidence of joint or muscle inflammation.

Treatment

  • Your doctor can give you medication to treat the symptoms of fibromyalgia. This can help to decrease pain, allow you to sleep better, and improve your mood.
  • Physical therapy, such as a low-impact stretching exercise program, can help decrease your symptoms.
    Talk with your doctor about what exercises can help you.
  • Seeing a mental health professional, such as a counselor or psychiatrist, can help you deal with this condition in a positive way. Therapy can also help if you are feeling anxious or depressed. Ask your doctor for a referral to the Counseling Center.
  • Complementary therapies, such as t'ai chi, yoga, acupuncture, and massage, can help relieve your symptoms. To learn more about these therapies, contact the MSKCC Integrative Medicine Service at (646) 888-0800.