No one knows how fibromyalgia develops, but many researchers believe it involves an interaction between the nervous system, body chemistry, and muscles that results in an intensification of pain signals.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia vary in each individual and can change over time. Symptoms may decrease or disappear during periods of remission, only to reappear or worsen with subsequent disease flares.
Medications can effectively manage many fibromyalgia symptoms.
Types of fibromyalgia symptoms
Most fibromyalgia symptoms fall within the broad categories of pain, cognitive symptoms, and general symptoms.
Widespread chronic pain is the defining symptom of fibromyalgia. Types of pain vary between people, and may be described as shooting, burning, stabbing, tingling, aching, or throbbing. Fibromyalgia pain is often accompanied by stiffness, and both may be worst in the mornings. Many people with fibromyalgia also feel numbness. Pain may get worse when a person with fibromyalgia is cold, tired, under emotional or physical stress, or getting too little exercise.
Migraines, temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), painful bladder syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are common in people with fibromyalgia and add to the burden of pain. Menstrual pain may be worse in women with fibromyalgia.
Many people with fibromyalgia experience cognitive difficulties. Cognitive changes, often referred to collectively as “fibro fog” or “cog fog,” can include problems with memory, focus, paying attention, processing information, forgetting or confusing words, learning and remembering new things, and organization.
Fatigue is one of the most common fibromyalgia symptoms, and it can be debilitating. In fibromyalgia, fatigue is not improved with rest.
Many people with fibromyalgia have trouble sleeping and often wake up tired. Sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea are common in people with fibromyalgia, making it even harder to get a restful night’s sleep.
Fibromyalgia may heighten sensitivity to bright light, noise, and temperature.
Depression and anxiety are very common among those with fibromyalgia, as with all chronic conditions.
Many people with fibromyalgia experience digestive symptoms such as bloating and constipation, possibly due to an overlap with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Urinary symptoms such as irritable bladder, painful bladder syndrome, or interstitial cystitis are common in people with fibromyalgia.
Some people with fibromyalgia notice lumps or bumps underneath their skin. The lumps may feel tender or painful.
What are the early signs of fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia begins differently for each person. For many people, fatigue and pain are among the first symptoms to be noticed. Others may notice cognitive issues. Some people experience multiple symptoms at once.
Do men and women experience different fibromyalgia symptoms?
More women than men have fibromyalgia. Research has been limited on whether men and women experience fibromyalgia differently. One small study showed that the pain threshold of women with fibromyalgia was lower than that of men with fibromyalgia. The same study indicated that men’s pain worsened most with poor sleep quality, while women’s pain was increased most by emotional distress.
What symptoms lead to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms alone. The process of diagnosing fibromyalgia can take months or years. Before reaching a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, doctors must rule out all other conditions that could potentially cause the symptoms.
At what age do most people first experience fibromyalgia symptoms?
Fibromyalgia is most commonly diagnosed in middle age, and risk increases with age. Fibromyalgia is diagnosed less commonly in children. Read more about how fibromyalgia is diagnosed.