Skip to main content
DONATE
Donate

Self-Help & Coping

Fibromyalgia FAQ

1. What causes fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia runs in families, but not every blood relative in your family will develop this disease. Genetics plus a variety of triggering events can precipitate the onset of fibromyalgia. Examples of common triggers include infections, physical trauma (especially involving the spine), the development of another disorder (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.), or prolonged stress. With regards to what causes the symptoms of fibromyalgia, there are many factors that are addressed in our section on Possible Symptom Causes.

2. Is there a blood test for fibromyalgia?

No. Fibromyalgia is primarily diagnosed based on the presence of widespread pain for at least three months. Other associated symptoms may also be used in the diagnosis, such as fatigue, cognitive difficulties, trouble sleeping, frequent headaches, pain/cramps in lower abdomen (irritable bowel), and depressed mood. While there is no blood test to diagnose fibromyalgia, your doctor may order tests to identify other potential causes for your symptoms. However, even if these tests confirm that you have another condition, they do not rule out the possibility that you may also have fibromyalgia.

3. Is there a cure?

No. Fibromyalgia is primarily diagnosed based on the presence of widespread pain for at least three months. Other associated symptoms may also be used in the diagnosis, such as fatigue, cognitive difficulties, trouble sleeping, frequent headaches, pain/cramps in lower abdomen (irritable bowel), and depressed mood. While there is no blood test to diagnose fibromyalgia, your doctor may order tests to identify other potential causes for your symptoms. However, even if these tests confirm that you have another condition, they do not rule out the possibility that you may also have fibromyalgia.

4. What is the prognosis; does fibromyalgia get worse over time?

Long term studies show fibromyalgia is chronic, but the symptoms may wax and wane. You may have periods of time when you feel better, but not know why. The impact fibromyalgia has on daily living activities, including employment, differs among patients. Overall, studies show that fibromyalgia is just as disabling and life-impacting as rheumatoid arthritis.

5. Why does my doctor think I just need to exercise?

Exercise is highly touted for the treatment of fibromyalgia, but it may make your symptoms worse before it relieves them. So, why is your doctor pushing exercise as though it was more of a panacea for fibromyalgia? Consider this a sign that the medications for fibromyalgia provide limited effectiveness and no one drug works in most patients. In addition, your doctor doesn’t want you to become deconditioned because that will further impair your function (which may already be impacted by the fibromyalgia).

Exercise is heavily promoted at medical conferences and is widely endorsed in the medical journals. It’s a therapy that is easy to prescribe and it doesn’t cost anything, so it tends to be one of the first things a doctor will recommend for fibromyalgia patients. However, you need to be careful not to overwork your muscles because this will cause more pain, not less. See our sections on Movement Therapies and Muscle Pain Relief for help in this area.

6. What medical specialist should I see for treating my fibromyalgia?

There is no specific medical specialty that “owns” fibromyalgia. Try to find a doctor who has lots of experience with treating fibromyalgia patients or one with an open-mind who is empathetic. For advice on finding a doctor (with input from several experts), see our section on Finding Support & Help.

7. I have trouble sleeping. Is this part of my fibromyalgia?

Most fibromyalgia patients have a sleep disorder that causes alpha (awake-like) brain wave intrusions throughout the night. Even once you do fall asleep, you will probably have these bursts of awake-like brain activity that prevents you from staying asleep. You may toss and turn all night and feel as though you never reach deep, restorative sleep.

8. How common are headaches in fibromyalgia?

Recurrent migraine and tension-type headaches occur in most fibromyalgia patients and can make coping with this disease even more difficult. For some people, aggressive treatment of the migraines also provides relief of the overall pain of fibromyalgia. Myofascial trigger points, or those knots in your neck and shoulder muscles, are the primary cause of your headaches and moving your head forward or looking down will aggravate them. See the section on Muscle Pain Relief for help with getting these trigger points treated because the therapies in this section will greatly reduce the occurrence and severity of your head pain.

9. What can I do to help myself?

Lifestyle modifications may help you conserve energy and minimize pain. Learn what factors aggravate your symptoms and avoid them when possible. Many patients find warm water (hot tub or shower) to be soothing. Hot wraps for particularly painful areas are also beneficial. Maintaining a rigid sleep schedule and ensuring that you receive at least eight hours of sleep per night can help minimize daytime fatigue and reduce nighttime sleep difficulties. See our section on Lifestyle Changes for additional tips.

10. Is there a special diet I should be following?

Possibly. One study showed that reducing flavor-enhancers in your diet produced significant relief of fibromyalgia symptoms. Most flavor additives, such as MSG and similar chemicals, increase glutamate in the system and this chemical works to increase pain transmissions. Research shows fibromyalgia patients have elevated levels of glutamate in their central nervous system, their GI tract, and their bloodstream. Ingesting more of this chemical will compound your pain and other symptoms. For help with eliminating glutamate-containing foods, see our section on Diet & Nutrition.