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Medical Description

Fibromyalgia is considered a syndrome because it is characterized by a group of signs and symptoms. These include:


Most people diagnosed with fibromyalgia feel pain all over their bodies, above and below the waist and on both sides of the body. Many report that the pain is worse at some times than at others. For example, morning stiffness is common, and the pain may be worse on some days than others. The type of pain varies and may be described as burning, aching, shooting, stabbing or tingling. It may also change locations. Headaches and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome, which causes jaw pain, are also common.


The fatigue of fibromyalgia ranges from the feeling of being slightly tired to the exhaustion of a flu-like illness. The fatigue may always be present to some degree, or it may suddenly sweep over a person like a wave, bringing with it a longing, or need, to lie down.

Some describe their fatigue as feeling like there are concrete blocks tied to their arms and legs. Some also report “brain fatigue” – feeling totally drained of mental energy and having difficulty concentrating.

Brain Function Problems

Some people with fibromyalgia experience problems with poor concentration, thinking clearly, short-term memory or multi-tasking.

Sleep Dysfunction

Sleep does not refresh or improve fatigue. Fatigue may be present even after sleeping for 10 to 12 hours.

Problems with Automatic Body Functioning (Autonomic Nervous System)

The autonomic nervous system regulates key functions in our bodies that occur "automatically," without us thinking about them. This includes, for example, keeping our heart beating, our blood pressure regulated, our stomach and intestines functioning properly and our lungs working. When this system is affected by fibromyalgia, a variety of symptoms can occur as a result, such as light-headedness, dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and sweating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, gas and bloating. A person may lose or gain weight.

Hormonal and Endocrine Symptoms

Some people with fibromyalgia have trouble maintaining their body temperature and feel cold all the time or feel hot.

A Physical Illness

Fibromyalgia is a physical illness. Research shows that the brains of people with fibromyalgia handle pain differently from those of “normal people” and that much more of their brains are involved with the pain signal. A family history of fibromyalgia may also increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.

Daily Functioning

In some people, the pain can be severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. The severe pain, and problems with mental processing, may result in the individual being unable to sustain employment. Being in constant pain and suffering from fatigue may also strain relationships with family and friends.

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