Fibromyalgia: Symptoms and Side Effects

Fibromyalgia: Symptoms and Side Effects

Author Miriam Ferrer, PhD Last updated 18th June 2020

  • Health Conditions

Fibromyalgia: Symptoms and Side Effects

Fibromyalgia syndrome can be a severe, long-term condition that causes widespread pain all over the body. It’s not well understood, and experts are still not able to specifically pinpoint what the exact causes are.

Patients are generally within the 30 to 50 age ranges and the NHS1 states that women are seven times more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men. With 1.5 to 2 million people in the UK with fibromyalgia and no cure, it’s important to acknowledge potential causes, recognise the symptoms and identify any treatments.

Possible Causes of Fibromyalgia

Although there’s no specific, underlying cause for Fibromyalgia, there are some theories in place and most likely, several factors involved. NRS Healthcare2 states that because there are no physical problems in the body causing patients pain, it’s believed the pain could come from the ‘brain’s management of pain signals.’

So, without a specific cause in place, the NHS3 has listed some factors thought to contribute to fibromyalgia.

Abnormal Pain Messages

With our central nervous system, which includes our brain, spinal cord and nerves, using its ‘network of specialised cells’ to communicate information all over our body, the changes in this system may be the cause of constant pain. Essentially, the body has changed the way it processes pain messages and could be a result of chemical changes in the nervous system.

Chemical Imbalance

Serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine, which are all found in the brain, seem to be abnormally low in fibromyalgia patients. As they regulate mood, appetite, sleep, our response to stressful situations and how we process pain messages, the lack of these hormones could be a key factor.

Sleep Issues

Although a symptom as well, sleep deprivation could be a cause of fibromyalgia. Patients who sleep badly are also more likely to suffer more pain than others, making it a contributing factor.


Although thought to be a minor risk factor, fibromyalgia could be associated with genetics. Those with a previous history could be more likely to develop the condition.


The NHS states that more often than not, fibromyalgia is ‘triggered by a stressful event, including physical stress or emotions (psychological) stress.’ These possible triggers can include an injury, viral infection, birth, operation, break ups, abuse in relationships or the death of a loved one.

Associated conditions

Several rheumatic conditions affecting the joints, muscles and bones, are often associated with fibromyalgia. These include osteoarthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and temporomandibular disorder.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

It’s important to understand that although some symptoms may be common among sufferers, everyone will experience their own symptoms differently. This makes it harder to understand and diagnose fibromyalgia. Additionally, with fibromyalgia being able to lead to other symptoms, which once again not everyone will experience, it makes the syndrome all the more confusing. While some may be able to continue with their day to day lives, others may find it incredibly difficult to manage.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)4 lists the symptoms as;

Most common symptoms

  • Pain and stiffness all over the body
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Problems with thinking, memory and concentration
  • Headaches including migraines

Other possible symptoms

  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
  • Pain in the face or jaw, including disorders of the jaw known as a temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)
  • Digestive problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)There may also be periods in your life where these symptoms can get better or worse. These factors can be associated with stress levels, any significant changes in weather or how able you are to take physical exercise, as physical exercise can help reduce pain. Changes in lifestyle can cause your symptoms to flare up.

Treatment of Fibromyalgia

Unfortunately, currently there is no cure for fibromyalgia, therefore treatments aim to ease symptoms and work on improving your quality of life.

Your GP will be able to help you in deciding which treatment is best for you. There may also be other doctors involved like a rheumatologist, neurologist and psychologist. Treatments that work for some people will not necessarily mean it will work for everyone. There may need to be a variety of treatments to determine the ideal combination that works for you.

The CDC5 lists a variety of treatments available, these may include:

  • Medications, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercise.
  • Patient education classes, usually in primary care or community settings.
  • Stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, and massage.
  • Good sleep habits to improve the quality of sleep.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to treat the underlying depression. CBT is a type of talk therapy meant to change the way people act or think.

In addition to these treatments, there’s also the option of learning some self-management strategies that help you to manage your symptoms. Self-management education classes help you understand your system, how to control your symptoms and how to improve your lifestyle.


Fibromyalgia is a complex condition, and is difficult to navigate. It can feel incredibly frustrating for those struggling with it, however, there are ways you can improve your experience. Research continues into this challenging and complex disease with the aim of helping sufferers manage their symptoms more effectively.


  1. NHS Fibromyalgia: An overview. Conditions.
  2. NRS HealthcareFibromyalgia (A complete guide). Articles; conditions.
  3. NHS Fibromyalgia: Causes. Conditions.
  4. CDC Centres for disease control and prevention Fibromyalgia. Arthritis; basics.
  5. CDC Centres for disease control and prevention Fibromyalgia Treatment . Arthritis; basics.