Introduction 

Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.

As well as widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia may also have:

  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • muscle stiffness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • problems with mental processes (known as "fibro-fog")  such as problems with memory and concentration
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)  a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating

If you think you have fibromyalgia, visit your GP. Treatment is available to ease some of its symptoms, although they are unlikely to disappear completely.

Read more about the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but it's thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) processes pain messages carried around the body.

It's also suggested that some people are more likely to develop fibromyalgia because of genes inherited from their parents.

In many cases, the condition appears to be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event, such as:

  • an injury or infection
  • giving birth
  • having an operation
  • the breakdown of a relationship 
  • the death of a loved one

Read more about the causes of fibromyalgia.

Who is affected?

Anyone can develop fibromyalgia, although it affects around seven times as many women as men. The condition typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50, but can occur in people of any age, including children and the elderly.

It's not clear exactly how many people are affected by fibromyalgia, although research has suggested that it could be a relatively common condition. Some estimates suggest nearly 1 in 20 people may be affected by fibromyalgia to some degree.

One of the main reasons it's not clear how many people are affected is because fibromyalgia can be a difficult condition to diagnose. There is no specific test for the condition, and the symptoms can be similar to a number of other conditions.

Read more about diagnosing fibromyalgia.

How fibromyalgia is treated

There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are treatments to help relieve some of the symptoms and make the condition easier to live with.

Treatment tends to be a combination of:

Exercise in particular has been found to have a number of important benefits for people with fibromyalgia, including helping to reduce pain.

Read more about treating fibromyalgia and advice on self-help for fibromyalgia.

Support groups

Many people with fibromyalgia find that support groups provide an important network where they can talk to others living with the condition.

FibroAction is a charity that offers information and support to people with fibromyalgia. If you have any questions about fibromyalgia, call the charity's helpline on 0844 443 5422.

There is also a network of local FibroAction support groups you may find helpful and a FibroAction online community, where you can find out about news, events and ongoing research into the condition.

Other useful support groups are Fibromyalgia Association UK and UK Fibromyalgia.


Fibromyalgia: Suzanne's story

Suzanne has fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes pain all over the body. She describes how it affected her and how it can be treated.

Media last reviewed: 21/07/2013

Next review due: 21/07/2015

Page last reviewed: 05/02/2014

Next review due: 05/02/2016