Treating fibromyalgia 

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but treatment can ease some of your symptoms and improve quality of life.

Your GP will play an important role in your treatment and care. They can help you decide what is best for you, depending on what you prefer and what treatments are available.

In some cases, several different healthcare professionals may also be involved in your care, such as:

  • a rheumatologist (a specialist in conditions that affect muscles and joints)
  • a neurologist (a specialist in conditions of the central nervous system)
  • a psychologist (a specialist in mental health and psychological treatments)

Fibromyalgia has numerous symptoms, meaning no single treatment will work for all of them. Treatments that work for some people will not necessarily work for others.

You may need to try a variety of treatments to find a combination that suits you. This will normally be a combination of medication and lifestyle changes.

Information and support

You may find it helpful to research fibromyalgia to improve your understanding of the condition. Many people also find support groups helpful. Just talking to someone who knows what you are going though can make you feel better.

You can visit UK Fibromyalgia's support group section for a list of fibromyalgia support groups across the country.

FibroAction is a charity that offers information and support to anyone who has fibromyalgia. It has a telephone service (0844 443 5422) that you can call with any questions about the condition. It also has a network of local FibroAction support groups you may find helpful.

There is also a FibroAction online community where you can find out about news, events and ongoing research.

Medication

You may need to take several different types of medicines for fibromyalgia, including painkillers and antidepressants. These are described below.

Painkillers

Simple painkillers that are available over the counter from a pharmacy, such as paracetamol, can sometimes help relieve the pain associated with fibromyalgia. However, these are not suitable for everyone, so make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions that come with the medication before using them.

If over-the-counter painkillers are not effective, your GP (or another healthcare professional treating you) may prescribe a stronger painkiller, such as codeine or tramadol.

However, these painkillers can be addictive and their effect tends to weaken over time. This means your dose may need to be gradually increased and you could experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them. Other side effects include diarrhoea and fatigue (extreme tiredness).

Antidepressants

Antidepressant medication can also be used to help relieve pain in some people with fibromyalgia. These medications boost the levels of certain chemicals that carry messages to and from the brain, known as neurotransmitters.

Low levels of neurotransmitters may be a factor in causing fibromyalgia, and it's believed that increasing their levels may help ease the widespread pain associated with the condition.

There are different types of antidepressants. The choice of medicine will largely depend on the severity of your symptoms and any side effects the medicine may cause.

Antidepressants used to treat fibromyalgia include:

A medication called pramipexole, which is not an antidepressant, but also affects the levels of neurotransmitters, is sometimes used as well.

Antidepressants can cause a number of side effects, including:

  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • dry mouth
  • drowsiness
  • feeling agitated, shaky or anxious
  • dizziness
  • weight gain
  • constipation

For information on the side effects of your particular medication, check the patient information leaflet that comes with it or look for it in our medicines A-Z guide.

Medication to help you sleep

As fibromyalgia can affect your sleeping patterns, you may want medicine to help you sleep. If you are sleeping better, you may find other symptoms are not as severe.

Speak to your GP if you think you could benefit from a medicine to help you sleep. They may recommend an over-the-counter remedy, or prescribe a short course of a stronger medication.

Read more about treating insomnia for information on good sleeping techniques and medicines to help you sleep.

Muscle relaxants

If you have muscle stiffness or spasms (when the muscles contract painfully) as a result of fibromyalgia, your GP may prescribe a muscle relaxant to ease your symptoms.

These medicines may also help you sleep better because they can have a sedative (sleep-inducing) effect.

Anticonvulsants

You may also be prescribed an anticonvulsant (anti-seizure) medicine, as these can be beneficial in treating fibromyalgia.

The most commonly used anticonvulsants for fibromyalgia are pregabalin and gabapentin. These are normally used to treat epilepsy (a condition that causes seizures), but research has shown they can improve the pain associated with fibromyalgia in some people.

Some common side effects of pregablin and gabapentin include dizziness, drowsiness and swelling of your hands and feet (oedema).

Antipsychotics

Antipsychotic medicines, also called neuroleptics, are sometimes used to help relieve long-term pain. Studies have shown that these medications may help in conditions such as fibromyalgia, but further research is needed to confirm this.

Possible side effects include drowsiness, tremors (shaking) and restlessness.

Other treatment options

As well as medication, there are a number of other treatment options that can be used to help cope with the pain of fibromyalgia, such as:

  • swimming, sitting or exercising in a heated pool or warm water (known as hydrotherapy or balneotherapy)
  • an individually tailored exercise programme
  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a talking therapy that aims to change the way you think about things, so you can tackle problems more positively
  • psychotherapy – a talking therapy that helps you understand and deal with your thoughts and feelings
  • relaxation techniques
  • psychological support – any kind of counselling or support group that helps you deal with issues caused by fibromyalgia 

See self-help for fibromyalgia for more information about exercise and relaxation techniques.

Alternative therapies

Some people with fibromyalgia try complementary or alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage, manipulation and aromatherapy.

There is little scientific evidence that such treatments help in the long term. However, some people find certain treatments help them to relax and feel less stressed, allowing them to cope with their condition better.

Research into some complementary medicines, such as plant extracts, has found they are not effective in treating fibromyalgia. If you decide to use any complementary or herbal remedies, check with your GP first. Some remedies can react unpredictably with other medication, or make it less effective.

Treating other conditions

If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and another condition, such as depression or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may need to have separate treatment for these. For example, additional counselling or medication may be recommended. 

Read more about treating depression and treating IBS.

Page last reviewed: 05/02/2014

Next review due: 05/02/2016