Fibromyalgia Treatment Guide

Your fibromyalgia specialist’s guide to diagnosis, treatment, and symptom management.

Topic Guide

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Fibromyalgia Causes

Is Fibromyalgia Genetic?

Fibromyalgia Diagnosis

Fibromyalgia Treatment

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread, chronic pain throughout the body. The condition is not fully understood but is believed to be linked to the nervous system and is therefore not considered a rheumatic or an autoimmune condition.

Fibromyalgia is most common in women and is typically diagnosed in people older than 40. You are also more likely to develop fibromyalgia if you have a rheumatic disease, including rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, or lupus. However, anyone may be diagnosed with the disease, and symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly after an event (including surgeries, infections, or periods of heightened stress).

While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, your provider or rheumatologist can manage symptoms with fibromyalgia medications and lifestyle changes.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Symptoms of fibromyalgia may differ from person to person, but most people diagnosed with the condition experience the following fibromyalgia symptoms:

  • Chronic pain at several points of, or throughout, the body, especially the neck and shoulders, back, chest, and abdomen
  • Unexplained fatigue or exhaustion

Other symptoms of fibromyalgia may also include:

  • Memory problems
  • Brain fog
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Headaches or migraines
  • IBS or other gastrointestinal distress
  • Bladder failure
  • Insomnia
  • Numbness and tingling in the limbs
  • Sensitivity to light/sound

A fibromyalgia specialist can help determine if your symptoms may be indicators of the disease.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Doctors and scientists don’t fully know what causes fibromyalgia. Historically, fibromyalgia has been treated as a rheumatic condition. In the early 1900s, fibromyalgia was referred to as “muscular rheumatism” or “chronic rheumatism” to describe the sore muscles and joints associated with the disorder.

It wasn’t until 1990 that the American College of Rheumatology published diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia. Today, we understand that certain chemicals in the brain, specifically serotonin and norepinephrine, may be unbalanced in individuals with fibromyalgia. It’s believed that when these hormones are unbalanced, it may lead to heightened reactions to stimuli, including pain.

Is Fibromyalgia Genetic?

Some studies have suggested a genetic component to fibromyalgia, but a gene hasn’t been identified. If you have family members diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you may have a higher risk of developing the disease.

Individuals with no family history of fibromyalgia may still develop the disease. Other suspected fibromyalgia risk factors included:

  • Certain preexisting conditions, including autoimmune disease, IBS, anxiety, or depression
  • History of past traumas (physical or emotional)
  • Past infections, especially severe infections

Fibromyalgia Diagnosis

If you experience symptoms of fibromyalgia, your provider or rheumatologist will likely conduct an in-office examination and order tests that may help determine the cause of your symptoms. If your primary care provider suspects fibromyalgia, you may be referred to a rheumatologist.

Depending on your insurance provider, you may not require a referral to see a rheumatologist for ankylosing spondylitis. Contact your insurer, or reach out to your rheumatologist for more information.

Fibromyalgia Lab Tests

There isn’t a single lab test that can diagnose fibromyalgia. Your provider or rheumatologist may order multiple tests to rule out other diseases. These may include tests to rule out autoimmune or other medical conditions that may be causing symptoms. These may include:

  • Antinuclear antibody tests (ANA)
  • Celiac lab
  • C-reactive protein
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • Thyroid lab

Fibromyalgia Examination

In the past, physical examinations were often used to diagnose fibromyalgia. The examinations would be conducted by your primary care provider or a rheumatologist and would involve testing several spots on your body for pain or soreness. These 18 points have been associated with fibromyalgia pain.

Currently, the American College of Rheumatology considers the length of time you have experienced pain to form a diagnosis. Your provider may ask you if you have had pain lasting more than three months in several areas throughout the body.

Fibromyalgia Treatment

Treating fibromyalgia may involve a combination of medications and lifestyle changes to help reduce symptoms and prevent flares. Sometimes, symptom management may require a multi-specialty approach to address all fibromyalgia symptoms.

Fibromyalgia Medications

There aren’t any medications that are specifically designed to treat fibromyalgia. However, the following medications may help to improve symptoms associated with the condition:

  • Antidepressants (Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, etc.)
  • Anti-epileptics
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Provigil (for fatigue)

Lifestyle Changes to Treat Fibromyalgia

Your rheumatologist may suggest lifestyle changes that can improve fibromyalgia symptoms and reduce the frequency of flares:

  • Exercise has been shown to help reduce stress which may trigger fibromyalgia flares, and even improve fatigue.
  • Mindfulness meditation has been shown as an effective way to reduce stress in patients with chronic disease.
  • Anti-inflammatory diets can reduce inflammation in fibromyalgia patients with concurring autoimmune diseases.

If you are looking for a rheumatologist to manage fibromyalgia treatment, Summit Rheumatology is currently accepting new patients. Our team works with patients to develop the most effective treatment plan to alleviate symptoms and help them reach their lifestyle goals.

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