(Compiled by the National Institute
of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases)
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal
pain, fatigue, and multiple tender points. "Tender points" refers to tenderness
that occurs in precise, localized areas, particularly in the neck, spine, shoulders,
and hips. People with this syndrome may also experience sleep disturbances,
morning stiffness, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and other symptoms.
How Many People Have Fibromyalgia?
According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia affects 3 to
6 million Americans. It primarily occurs in women of childbearing age, but children,
the elderly, and men can also be affected.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Although the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, researchers have several theories
about causes or triggers of the disorder. Some scientists believe that the syndrome
may be caused by an injury or trauma. This injury may affect the central nervous
system. Fibromyalgia may be associated with changes in muscle metabolism, such
as decreased blood flow, causing fatigue and decreased strength. Others believe
the syndrome may be triggered by an infectious agent such as a virus in susceptible
people, but no such agent has been identified.
How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms mimic those
of other disorders. The physician reviews the patient's medical history and
makes a diagnosis of fibromyalgia based on a history of chronic widespread pain
that persists for more than 3 months. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR)
has developed criteria for fibromyalgia that physicians can use in diagnosing
the disorder. According to ACR criteria, a person is considered to have fibromyalgia
if he or she has widespread pain in combination with tenderness in at least
11 of 18 specific tender point sites.
How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?
Treatment of fibromyalgia requires a comprehensive approach. The physician,
physical therapist, and patient may all play an active role in the management
of fibromyalgia. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise, such as swimming
and walking, improves muscle fitness and reduces muscle pain and tenderness.
Heat and massage may also give short-term relief. Antidepressant medications
may help elevate mood, improve quality of sleep, and relax muscles. Patients
with fibromyalgia may benefit from a combination of exercise, medication, physical
therapy, and relaxation.
FIBROMYALGIA Key Words
medication or treatment that relieves pain.
means joint inflammation, but is often used to indicate a group of more than
100 rheumatic diseases. These diseases affect not only the joints but also other
connective tissues of the body, including important supporting structures such
as muscles, tendons, and ligaments, as well as the protective covering of internal
Autoimmune disease: One
in which the immune system destroys or attacks the patient's own body tissue.
tough, resilient tissue that covers and cushions the ends of the bones and absorbs
Chronic disease: An
illness that lasts for a long time.
main structural protein of skin, tendon, bone cartilage, and connective tissues.
Connective tissue: The
supporting framework of the body and its internal organs.
Sometimes called fibrositis, a chronic disorder that causes pain and stiffness
throughout the tissues that support and move the bones and joints. Pain and
localized tender points occur in the muscles, particularly those that support
the neck, spine, shoulders, and hips. The disorder includes widespread pain,
fatigue, and sleep disturbances.
A tough wrapping of tendons and ligaments that surrounds the joint.
Flare: A period
in which disease symptoms reappear or become worse.Genetic marker: A specific
tissue type or gene, similar to a blood type, that is passed on from parents
to their children. Some genetic markers are linked to certain rheumatic diseases.
reaction of the immune system against foreign substances. When this reaction
occurs against substances or tissues within the body, it is called an autoimmune
A complex system that normally protects the body from infections. It combines
groups of cells, the chemicals that control them, and the chemicals they release.
A characteristic reaction of tissues to injury or disease. It is marked by four
signs: swelling, redness, heat, and pain.
Joint: A junction
where two bones meet. Most joints are composed of cartilage, joint space, fibrous
capsule, synovium, and ligaments.
Joint space: The
volume enclosed within the fibrous capsule and synovium.
of cordlike tissue that connect bone to bone. Muscle: A structure composed of
bundles of specialized cells that, when stimulated by nerve impulses, contract
and produce movement.
Inflammatory and noninflammatory diseases of muscle.
of a muscle.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):A group of drugs, such as aspirin
and aspirin-like drugs, used to reduce inflammation that causes joint pain,
stiffness, and swelling.
A circulatory condition associated with spasms in the blood vessels of the fingers
and toes causing them to change color. After exposure to cold, these areas turn
white, then blue, and finally red.
period during which symptoms of disease are reduced (partial remission) or disappear
A condition manifested by dry eyes and dry mouth.
One in which a person has difficulty achieving restful, restorative sleep. In
addition to other symptoms, patients with fibromyalgia usually have a sleep
tissue that surrounds and protects the joints. It produces synovial fluid that
nourishes and lubricates the joints.
Tender points: Specific locations on the body that are painful, especially when
cords that connect muscle to bone.
Inflammation in the blood vessels. It may occur throughout the body.
National Institutes of Health, December 1999
Understanding and Treating
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia
This article provides an overview of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, including information about symptoms and
"The most commonly accepted definition (devised by the American College of Rheumatology in 1990) is that the person
affected needs to show a history of widespread pain (pain is considered widespread when all of the following are present:
pain in the left side of the body, pain in the right side of the body, pain above the waist and pain below the waist. In
addition there should be pain in the spine or the neck or front of the chest, or thoracic spine or lower back) and pain in 11
of 18 tender point sites on finger pressure."
"Both Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia often seem to begin after an infection or a severe shock (physical or
emotional), and the symptoms are very similar. The only obvious difference seems to be that for some people the fatigue
element is the most dominant while for others the muscular pain symptoms are greatest. In other words for many people the
diagnosis Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia are interchangeable terms, although there are certain symptoms (fever,
swollen glands for example) which are found in a higher percentage of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients than those with
Fibromyalgia, which sometimes make such a comparison less precise."
See entire article
Additional Fibromyalgia information articles:
Fibromyalgia Treatments |
Coping with Fibromyalgia