Understanding fibromyalgia: Causes, symptoms and treatment options

Written by: Dr Aditi Ghei
Edited by: Karolyn Judge

Leading anaesthetist and pain management consultant Dr Aditi Ghei has put together an expert take on understanding fibromyalgia alongside the causes, symptoms and treatment options in this informative article.

Woman with fibromyalgia

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in specific areas of the body. It’s a complex disorder that affects the way the brain processes pain signals, leading to heightened sensitivity to pain and other sensory stimuli.



What causes fibromyalgia?

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some potential triggers and risk factors include:

  • Genetics: Individuals with a family history of fibromyalgia may be more likely to develop the condition.
  • Infections: Certain infections, such as viral illnesses, have been linked to the onset of fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Trauma: Physical or emotional trauma, such as car accidents or stressful life events, may trigger the development of fibromyalgia in susceptible individuals.
  • Other health conditions: Fibromyalgia often coexists with other chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).



What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Chronic pain

The hallmark symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread, chronic pain that affects multiple areas of the body, including the muscles, joints, and soft tissues.

The pain may vary in intensity and can be described as dull, aching, or burning in nature.


Fatigue and sleep disturbances

Many individuals with fibromyalgia experience persistent fatigue and sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, and non-restorative sleep.

Despite sleeping for extended periods, patients may wake up feeling unrefreshed and tired.


Cognitive difficulties

Fibromyalgia can impair cognitive function, leading to problems with memory, concentration, and multitasking.

This cognitive fog, often referred to as "fibro fog," can interfere with daily activities and reduce productivity.


Other symptoms

Additional symptoms of fibromyalgia may include headaches, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), restless legs syndrome (RLS), and heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and temperature changes.



How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

  • Medical history and physical examination

A healthcare professional will review the patient's medical history and conduct a thorough physical examination to assess for signs of widespread pain, tenderness, and other associated symptoms.

They may also inquire about the patient's sleep patterns, fatigue levels, and emotional well-being.


  • Diagnostic criteria

The diagnosis of fibromyalgia is based on a set of established criteria, including the presence of widespread pain lasting for at least three months and tenderness at specific anatomical sites known as tender points.

Laboratory tests and imaging studies may be ordered to rule out other potential causes of the patient's symptoms.



What are the treatment options for fibromyalgia?


Medications such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and muscle relaxants may be prescribed to alleviate pain, improve sleep quality, and manage other associated symptoms.

Pain relievers, including over-the-counter analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may also provide temporary relief for some patients.


Lifestyle modifications

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise, stress management techniques, and maintaining a balanced diet, can help improve overall well-being and reduce fibromyalgia symptoms.

Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and practicing good sleep hygiene can also contribute to better sleep quality and symptom management.


Physical therapy

Physical therapy programs tailored to the individual's needs can help improve flexibility, strength, and endurance, as well as reduce pain and stiffness.

Techniques such as massage therapy, heat therapy, and gentle stretching exercises may be incorporated into the treatment plan to alleviate muscle tension and promote relaxation.


Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT and other forms of psychotherapy can help patients develop coping strategies, identify and modify negative thought patterns, and improve their overall quality of life.

By addressing psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and depression, CBT can empower patients to better manage their fibromyalgia symptoms and enhance their resilience.


Complementary and alternative therapies

Some patients find relief from fibromyalgia symptoms through complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness meditation.

While research on the effectiveness of these therapies is ongoing, many individuals report improvements in pain, sleep, and overall functioning with regular practice.




Do you require expert fibromyalgia treatment? Arrange a consultation with Dr Ghei via her Top Doctors profile.

By Dr Aditi Ghei
Pain medicine

Dr Aditi Ghei is a leading anaesthetist and pain management consultant based in London and Hertfordshire, renowned for her expertise in treating low back pain, neck pain and neuropathic pain, alongside fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), and pelvic pain.

Dr Ghei offers her services at esteemed clinics such as The Cavell Hospital, OSD Healthcare, Elstree Waterfront Outpatients Centre, and The Wellington Hospital. Her NHS base is the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

She adopts a patient-centric approach, collaborating closely with individuals to understand their unique needs and develop tailored treatment plans to alleviate their pain and enhance their quality of life.

In addition to her clinical practice, Dr Ghei is actively involved in research to advance the field of pain management. Her contributions have led to advancements in pain management techniques, benefiting patients across the UK.

Dr Ghei's commitment to excellence has earned her recognition within the medical community, and she continues to be an active member of professional organisations to stay updated with the latest developments in pain management, including the Royal College of Anaesthetists, Faculty of Pain Management and the Difficult Airway Society. She is also a member of the General Medical Council, MDDUS (Medical & Dental Indemnity Protection UK), the British Pain Society and the British Medical Association.

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