What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a widespread pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons (the tissues that connect the bones to the muscles). Unlike arthritis, the joints are not deformed or damaged by the condition.

How common is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a common disease. Estimates on the numbers affected vary from 2-6% of people. As many as one in 50 people may experience fibromyalgia during their lifetime and the majority of sufferers are women. The incidence of fibromyalgia increases with age, and is most common in women over the age of 50 years.

Causes of fibromyalgia?

This condition is not well understood and is described by the medical profession as being ‘idiopathic’ (ie. an illness without an obvious cause). However, the condition causes significant pain and discomfort. Family history may play a role.

Other research suggests that a history of insomnia or the presence of certain brain chemical abnormalities and muscular abnormalities may have a role to play in the development of fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia may occur as a result of certain other illnesses or events (e.g. increased stress, surgery, emotional trauma and accidents)


The main symptoms of fibromyalgia include pain in the muscles and stiffness in the morning. Sleep disturbance and fatigue are common. Problems concentrating and poor memory are also common.

Other symptoms include depression, tension and migraine headaches, irritable bowel and bladder, as well as tension and pain in the jaw. Pain and lack of energy often make it difficult to keep involved in routine activities such as work and recreation.


A Fibromyalgia diagnosis is not straightforward and it is common that people with fibromyalgia may see several health professionals before a diagnosis is made. Pain and fatigue occur in many different illnesses and a definite diagnosis can initially be difficult. There is no diagnostic test for Fibromyalgia. A doctor will diagnose fibromyalgia based on a medical history and examination, including the pattern of pain.


There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but symptoms can be managed. Medication may be prescribed to manage sleep disturbance and depression. For most people recovery involves taking steps to lead a more active lifestyle.

Often those with fibromyalgia avoid exercising due to the pain. However, fibromyalgia is related to muscle problems so is likely to be helped by exercise. Endurance exercises can strengthen the body and give energy. Low impact aerobic activity such as walking, water exercises (water aerobics), and cycling, can be effective. Advice from a health professional can be useful to select the most appropriate form of exercise. Lifestyle management is also important. Daily activities should be geared to avoid feeling tired or stressed as these factors may aggravate the symptoms.