What is Fibromyalgia? Symptoms, treatment, causes, diagnosis and how it differs from arthritis

Arthritis can be a common problem as we get older but not many people know about fibromyalgia which is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.

Fibromyalgia hit headlines after Kirsty Young announced she was stepping down as DJ of Desert Island Discs due to the condition.

According to Arthritis Research UK, it’s thought that as many as one person in every 25 may suffer from fibromyalgia.

But what exactly is fibromyalgia, how does it differ from arthritis and what symptoms should you look out for? Here’s everything you need to know:

What is fibromyalgia and how is it different from arthritis?

Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition causing widespread pain as well as other symptoms.

Whereas arthritis is inflammatory and causes pain that comes and goes in the joints, fibromyalgia causes constant muscle and tissue pain that’s widespread. 

Other symptoms, however, may be very similar.

Opening up: Mr Beckham discussed his marriage at length to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs (Sophie Mutevelian/BBC/PA Wire)

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

The pain may affect your whole body or be confined to a few particular areas. Some people also find that their pain feels worse in very hot, cold or damp weather.

As well as widespread pain, symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • fatigue
  • muscle stiffness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • problems with mental processes such as memory and concentration
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

What causes fibromyalgia?

There’s not yet a known cause of fibromyalgia but research suggests that there’s an interaction between physical, neurological and psychological factors.

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
  • breakdown of a relationship
  • the death of a loved one

It’s also suggested that genetic factors may play a role in the onset of the condition.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

Fibromyalgia is traditionally difficult to diagnose because the symptoms displayed could have a host of different causes.

Whilst no specific tests can be done to formally diagnose the condition, your doctor may suggest you have blood tests to rule out other possible causes for symptoms.

How is fibromyalgia treated?

There’s no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are ways you can help relieve some of your symptoms.

Treatment tends to be a combination of:

  • medication – such as antidepressants and painkillers
  • talking therapies – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling
  • lifestyle changes – such as exercise programmes and relaxation techniques


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