Fibromyalgia

  • Medical Author:
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Fibromyalgia Overview Slideshow

Quick GuideFibromyalgia Causes, Diagnosis, Symptoms & Treatment

Fibromyalgia Causes, Diagnosis, Symptoms & Treatment

What are fibromyalgia symptoms and signs?

The defining feature of fibromyalgia is chronic widespread pain. This means pain in multiple areas of the body, most commonly in muscles, tendons, and joints. The pain is generally above and below the waist, on the left side of the body and on the right side of the body but can be localized, often in the neck and shoulders or low back, initially. The pain is chronic, which means it is present for more than three months. Patients commonly feel as if they "hurt all over" or as if they have the flu, or are about to develop a cold or the flu. It is common for some days to be worse than others, and many patients report "flare-ups" where their pain and other symptoms are worse for several days in a row or longer.

Fatigue is the other universal symptom of fibromyalgia. It is most noticeable upon awakening, but it may also be marked in the mid-afternoon. It is very common to wake up in the morning not feeling refreshed, even after sleeping through the night. Patients commonly feel they sleep "lightly" and may have multiple nighttime awakenings with difficulty returning to sleep.

While widespread pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances are the defining symptoms of the syndrome, fibromyalgia is associated with many other symptoms. Disordered thinking (cognitive disturbances) is often referred to as "fibro fog." Patients describe difficulty with attention and completing tasks, as well as a general sense of being in a fog.

Depression and anxiety are present in 30%-50% of patients at the time of diagnosis with fibromyalgia. Headaches are present in more than half of patients. Patients also may have a variety of poorly understood pain symptoms, including abdominal pain, dry eyes, dry mouth, chest wall pain, pelvic pain, and bladder symptoms, heart palpitations, numbness and tingling, multiple allergies and chemical sensitivities, weight gain, and others.

The physical examination is remarkable for tenderness in specific anatomic locations, such as the back of the neck where the neck muscles connect to the skull. There are 18 such locations, which are referred to as fibromyalgia tender points. In the past, studies required patients to have 11 out of a possible 18 fibromyalgia tender points in order to be included in a scientific study on fibromyalgia, but this definition of fibromyalgia has changed in the past few years.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/10/2015

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