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Fibromyalgia

Pain, stiffness, and tiredness associated with muscle tenderness

  • Occurs mainly in adults
  • More common in females
  • Stress may be a risk factor
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread muscle pain and tenderness. The condition has no particular cause, and no visible abnormality has ever been identified in the muscle tissue. However, fibromyalgia commonly develops during periods of stress.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of fibromyalgia develop slowly over weeks and occur in a distinct pattern around the body. They may include the following:

  • Muscle pain in the upper back, head, thighs, abdomen, and hips.

  • Particularly tender areas of muscle, typically at the base of the skull and near the shoulder blades and back.

Fibromyalgia is commonly associated with headaches, tiredness, depression, anxiety disorders, and disturbed sleep patterns. Some people have irregular bowel movements (see Irritable bowel syndrome). All of these symptoms usually become worse when levels of stress increase.

What might be done?

The diagnosis of fibromyalgia is often based on the symptoms and a physical examination, but your doctor may arrange for blood tests to rule out other disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Although there is no specific treatment, the pain may be relieved by deep tissue massage and locally applied moist heat, ultrasound treatment, or an injection with a local anaesthetic. Your doctor may also prescribe a low dosage of amitriptyline (see Antidepressant drugs) to relieve pain. Regular exercise is also important. Many people make a full recovery or learn to manage their symptoms and maintain a normal lifestyle, but some may be disabled.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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