Symptoms of fibromyalgia 

Fibromyalgia has many symptoms that tend to vary from person to person. The main symptom is widespread pain.

There may be periods when your symptoms get better or worse, depending on factors such as your stress levels, changes in the weather and how physically active you are.

If you think you have fibromyalgia, visit your GP. Treatment is available to help ease some of the symptoms, although it is unlikely they will ever disappear completely.

The main symptoms of fibromyalgia are outlined below.

Widespread pain

If you have fibromyalgia, one of the main symptoms is likely to be widespread pain. This may be felt throughout your body, but could be worse in particular areas, such as your back or neck. The pain is likely to be continuous, although it may be better or more severe at different times.

The pain could feel like an ache, a burning sensation, or a sharp, stabbing pain.

Extreme sensitivity

Fibromyalgia can make you extremely sensitive to pain all over your body, and you may find that even the slightest touch is painful. If you hurt yourself – for example, if you stub your toe – the pain may continue for much longer than it normally would.

You may hear the condition described in the following medical terms:

  • hyperalgesia – when you are extremely sensitive to pain
  • allodynia – when you feel pain from something that should not be painful at all, such as a very light touch

You may also be sensitive to things such as smoke, certain foods and bright lights. Being exposed to something you are sensitive to can cause your other fibromyalgia symptoms to flare up.

Stiffness

Fibromyalgia can make you feel stiff. The stiffness may be most severe when you have been in the same position for a long period of time – for example, when you first wake up in the morning.

It can also cause your muscles to spasm, which is when they contract (squeeze) tightly and painfully.

Fatigue

Fibromyalgia can cause fatigue (extreme tiredness). This can range from a mild, tired feeling to the exhaustion often experienced during a flu-like illness.

Severe fatigue may come on suddenly and can drain you of all your energy. If this occurs, you may feel too tired to do anything at all.

Poor sleep quality

Fibromyalgia can affect your sleep. You may often wake up tired, even when you have had plenty of sleep. This is because the condition can sometimes prevent you from sleeping deeply enough to refresh you properly. You may hear this described as "non-restorative sleep".

Cognitive problems ('fibro-fog')

Cognitive problems are issues related to mental processes, such as thinking and learning. If you have fibromyalgia, you may have:

  • trouble remembering and learning new things
  • problems with attention and concentration
  • slowed or confused speech

Headaches

If fibromyalgia has caused you to experience pain and stiffness in your neck and shoulders, you may also have frequent headaches. These can vary from being mild headaches to severe migraines and could also involve other symptoms, such as nausea (feeling sick).

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Some people with fibromyalgia also develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a common digestive condition that causes pain and bloating in your stomach. It can also lead to constipation or diarrhoea.

Other symptoms

There are a number of other symptoms people with fibromyalgia sometimes experience, including:

Depression

In some cases, having the condition can lead to depression. This is because fibromyalgia can be difficult to deal with, and low levels of certain hormones associated with the condition can make you prone to developing depression.

Depression can cause many symptoms, including:

  • constantly feeling low
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • losing interest in the things you usually enjoy

If you think you may be depressed, it's important to get help from your GP or your fibromyalgia healthcare professional if you have been seeing one.

Page last reviewed: 05/02/2014

Next review due: 05/02/2016