Fibromyalgia is a chronic, long term condition that involves fatigue, and widespread muscle and joint pain. It affects the way the brain processes pain signals by amplifying the sensor signals, and people with it can be extremely sensitive to pain that wouldn’t typically affect others. The cause is unknown. Although it isn’t life threatening, it can be difficult to live with the chronic fatigue and pain. It can take quite a while to diagnose, and symptoms can come and go. Approximately 2% to 5% of the population is affected.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

People are affected by fibromyalgia in different ways. Symptoms can include:

  • All-over-body pain – on both sides of the body, and above & below the waist. The pain can be aching, burning, gnawing, sharp, sore, stabbing, stiff, or throbbing.
  • Muscle and soft tissue pain and pain in the ligaments and tendons where the muscles attach to bones. Fortunately, it does not damage muscles or bones
  • Low levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Brain fog and problems with memory and concentration
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Irritable bowel issues – constipation, diarrhoea and other digestive problems
  • Face or jaw pain
  • Restless legs
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Frequently dropping things
  • Sensitivity to heat or cold.

Diagnosis of fibromyalgia

There is no diagnostic test for fibromyalgia. Diagnosis is clinical, meaning it is by medical history, examination, symptoms and family background. It can take some time to diagnose and to rule out other illnesses such as rheumatic diseases, mental health problems and neurological conditions. A blood test is required to eliminate certain illnesses. Diagnosis usually requires three months of widespread pain and fatigue, along with other symptoms such as poor sleep, memory issues, depression…  There are 18 tender points on the body which can be sensitive when pressure is applied. They may come and go.

Fibromyalgia is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. It is more common in women, and can also run in families. One of the biggest myths about fibromyalgia is that it is only in one’s head. In fact, the pain is very real.

Although the cause is unknown, the following conditions can contribute to fibromyalgia:

  • Stressors such as abuse, trauma, being born prematurely, accidents, surgery etc
  • Mood disorders such as anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and depression
  • Insufficient exercise
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Medical conditions such as viruses and other illnesses.

Researchers believe it could be linked to stress, sleep problems or immune, endocrine or biochemical issues. You can reduce the risk of getting fibromyalgia through the following:

  • Minimising stress and addressing it quickly
  • Getting enough good quality sleep
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a nutritious, balanced diet
  • Managing conditions like anxiety, arthritis and depression
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not smoking.

Triggers for the condition

If you are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, individual events or a flare up can be triggered by:

  • Changes in diet, particularly a poor diet
  • Stressors such as emotional difficulties, work problems and other illnesses
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Changes to your daily routine
  • Lack of sleep or a significant change, such as shift work
  • Temperature or weather changes
  • Changes to your treatment.

Living with fibromyalgia

There is no cure as yet, although there are lifestyle aspects and treatments that can improve the condition. Some symptoms may go away with the following treatments, though may reappear when there is stress:

  • Regular physical exercise: it may be painful at first but with time, it will get better and provide relief
  • Improving sleep quality and habits
  • Eat a healthy diet – stop eating anything that worsens your symptoms. Avoid sugar, unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, processed food and alcohol
  • Stress management
  • Strength training – using your own weight for resistance, exercise bands, weights
  • Massage therapy
  • Giving up smoking – smoking increases the pain, and chances of depression
  • Cognitive behavourial therapy
  • Acupunture
  • Pain medication
  • Antidepressants
  • Biofeedback.


  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi or qigong
  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Strength training
  • Meditation & mindfulness
  • Dancing
  • Gardening
  • Pilates
  • Photography

Useful links

Research & education