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Understanding Fibromyalgia

The consensus about fibromyalgia is that it is a chronic pain syndrome characterized by widespread pain that lasts for more than 3 months. There is no clear cause of the condition, but there are effective treatments that can reduce symptoms dramatically when combined with lifestyle changes.

Many people have questions about fibromyalgia and what, exactly, it is. Unfortunately, no one knows exactly what causes fibromyalgia, so doctors are forced to create a description of the disorder. In cases where the cause of a disorder is not fully understood and the disease affects multiple aspects of the body, it is often referred to as syndrome. Thus, when searching for information about fibromyalgia, it is a good idea to also search for fibromyalgia syndrome. For instance, searching for “what is fibromyalgia syndrome” will return different results from searching for “what is fibromyalgia?” Both terms refer to the same condition of widespread pain, fatigue, depression, and memory problems.


About FibromyalgiaLike any disorder, characterizing fibromyalgia and determining how many people are affected is the first step to understanding it. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome. It is characterized by widespread aches, pain, and stiffness in the muscles and joints. The symptoms tend to wax and wane over time, but not with any particular regularity. The pain most commonly affects central locations in the body like the neck, spine, shoulders, and pelvis, though it can affect the hands and other parts of the body as well.

Beyond the pain, fibromyalgia is also likely to affect mood and sleep patterns. The majority of people suffering from fibromyalgia report disturbed and inadequate sleep. They also report higher levels of depression than other individuals.

One of the most pertinent questions people ask about fibromyalgia is how common it is and who is affected by it. According to the National Fibromyalgia Research Association, more than 6 million Americans suffer from Fibromyalgia. Ninety percent of them are middle-aged women, with symptoms most commonly appearing between the ages of 20 and 55.

At one point there existed official criteria for the diagnosis of fibromyalgia that required individuals to have tenderness at 11 of 18 prescribed tender points. This narrow approach meant that many people who did not fit the strict criteria were not offered beneficial treatment. Because the benefits of treatment are so high and the risks relatively low, many physicians have chosen to follow simpler guidelines. The simplified version states that any widespread pain lasting greater than 3 months and affecting all for quadrants of the body (above and below the waist as well as both sides) is fibromyalgia. This relaxed definition has led to increased awareness of the extent of the disease and increased efforts to determine its underlying causes.

State of the Disorder

One of the major problems to plague those who suffer from fibromyalgia is the lack of scientific consensus about the disease. When doctors are asked “what is fibromyalgia?” many of them are not even able to offer a definition. Unfortunately, some do not believe that it is a real disease because no one has been able to point out the underlying cause of it. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that fibromyalgia is strictly a neurologic disease and that those suffering from it are actually suffering from a neuropsychiatric condition that makes them think they have pain when they do not. Of course, to those suffering from the disease, there is no more real pain than that of fibromyalgia.

Despite the inability of science to pinpoint the exact cause of the disease, there is some research coming to light about fibromyalgia and its possible causes. Many studies have shown that people who suffer from fibromyalgia have exaggerated responses to stress and may even carry a genetic predisposition to the disorder.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition characterized by widespread and persistent pain. It generally affects multiple aspects of the body and lasts at least three months. Individuals who are concerned about fibromyalgia should seek referral to a specialist.

Rheumatologists who specialize in musculoskeletal diseases and have a great deal of experience treating fibromyalgia are the best equipped to make an accurate fibromyalgia diagnosis. They are more likely to ask the right questions, understand the pain a patient is experiencing, and begin effective treatment early. They are also the most knowledgeable about fibromyalgia and can help patients make lifestyle choices to improve symptoms.