Fibromyalgia syndrome affects the muscles and soft tissue. Symptoms include chronic muscle pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and painful tender points or trigger points, which can be relieved through medications, lifestyle changes and stress management.
Because the classic symptoms of fibromyalgia — widespread muscle and joint pain and fatigue — aren’t very distinctive, the condition is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. You may not have all of the symptoms, and you may have other medical problems, too.
Since there are no lab or imaging tests for it, when you go to get a diagnosis, your doctor will ask about your symptoms to decide if you have fibromyalgia.
Common Symptoms and Related Conditions
Many people with fibro — also called fibromyalgia syndrome or FMS — may have:
- Pain and tender points
- Sleep problems
- Concentration and memory problems, known as “fibro fog”
- Anxiety or depression
- Morning stiffness
- Numbness, and tingling in hands, arms, feet, and legs
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Problems with peeing
- Painful menstrual cramps
Pain and Tender Points
Almost all people with fibromyalgia ache all over. It can feel similar to osteoarthritis, bursitis, and tendinitis, but it’s over your entire body. This is usually what makes you go see your doctor.
The pain can be deep, sharp, dull, throbbing, or aching. You feel it in your muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the joints. For some people, the pain comes and goes. It could travel throughout your body.
You may also have tender points — specific spots around your joints that hurt when you press them with a finger. If you press a tender point on a person without fibromyalgia, they’ll just feel pressure. But that same pressure would be very painful for someone with fibro.
These tender points are in predictable places on the body. They’re often under the surface of the skin, not in areas of deep pain. It’s the tissue around the muscles and joints that hurts rather than the joints themselves.
A lingering tiredness and feeling drained is another big complaint. People often feel tired even when they should feel rested, such as after a good night’s sleep. Some say it’s like having the flu. Some compare it to working long hours and missing a lot of sleep.
You may feel too tired to exercise or more tired after a workout. Simple things such as grocery shopping or cooking dinner could wipe you out. Starting a project such as folding clothes or ironing could seem like too much effort. You might even be too tired for sex.
The majority of people with fibromyalgia have trouble sleeping. You may be able to fall asleep, but your sleep is light and easily disturbed. When you get up in the morning, you’re exhausted and not refreshed. It doesn’t help the fatigue.
Tests done in sleep labs show that people with fibro are constantly interrupted by bursts of brain activity similar to what happens in the brain when they’re awake. These interruptions limit how much time you spend in deep sleep, when your body restores itself, and you feel run down as a result.
Up to half of all people with fibromyalgia have depression or an anxiety disorder when they’re diagnosed with fibro.
Dealing with being fatigued and in pain all the time can be stressful. You probably worry about keeping up with life and what you can do to feel better. You may become less active and more withdrawn, which can lead to depression.
It’s also possible that anxiety and depression may actually be a part of fibromyalgia, like the pain.
People diagnosed with fibromyalgia and depression have a hard time with concentration and short-term memory, which make it hard to remember day-to-day things, like where they’ve put their keys or plans they’ve made for lunch tomorrow.
Most people with fibromyalgia feel like they need to “loosen up” after getting out of bed before they can start their day. The muscles and joints of their back, arms, and legs feel stiff. It’s not typical creakiness. It’s more like the stiffness someone with rheumatoid arthritis feels.
Although some people say it lasts only a few minutes, the stiffness usually sticks around for more than 15 to 20 minutes each day. Sometimes it lasts for hours, and it could linger all day.
Swelling and Tingling in Hands and Feet
While the cause of numbness, tingling, and burning is unclear, many people with fibro feel them. These sensations, called paresthesia, tend to happen randomly. They may last a few minutes, or they may be constant.
The feelings can be especially bothersome in the mornings along with morning stiffness. But they generally don’t get in the way of doing things.
Up to 2 out of 5 people with fibro also get migraine or tension headaches regularly. They may be a result of pain in your neck and upper back. They’re often caused by tight neck muscles. They may also be caused by tender points over the back of your head and neck.
Headaches can make it much harder for you to live with fibro and manage the disease.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
About two-thirds of people with fibromyalgia often have belly pain, gas, and bloating and feel like throwing up. They can also have constipation and diarrhea.
Many have acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), too.
Feeling the urge to go a lot, hurting when you do, or a leaky bladder can happen when you have fibromyalgia.
These symptoms could also be caused by bladder and kidney diseases, such as an infection.
Women with fibromyalgia may have unusually painful menstrual cramps, often for years, along with their other symptoms.
Restless Legs Syndrome
This usually affects your feet and legs below your knees. It may hurt, but more often it feels like you need to move your legs to try to make them comfortable. It’s especially bothersome at night because it can keep you from sleeping.