Diseases and Disorders > Chronic Conditions

The Facts About Fibromyalgia

Find out how fibromyalgia affects your sexual health.

A woman lays in bed holding her neck in pain.

Fibromyalgia is a persistent illness that causes pain and discomfort throughout the body. The discomfort may be connected to fatigue, sleep issues, difficulty focusing, headaches, depression and anxiety. Tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues is another symptom of fibromyalgia.

People with this condition may have faulty pain perception processing, which makes them more sensitive to pain than those who do not have it.

In the United States, fibromyalgia affects roughly 4 million people. Women are far more likely than men to experience it.


The causes of fibromyalgia are unclear and can vary from person to person. Studies suggest that fibromyalgia involves the central nervous system and, thus, the brain and spinal cord. The condition is not believed to be derived from an autoimmune, inflammatory, joint or muscle disorder.

Fibromyalgia tends to run in families. Researchers believe that particular genes can predispose people to fibromyalgia and its associated health problems. However, it is not thought that genes alone are the cause of fibromyalgia.

Often, a triggering factor—such as a spine problem, arthritis, injury or another type of physical stress—sets off fibromyalgia. Emotional stress may be a trigger, and brain chemical levels and proteins may be involved.

All of these triggers can change the way the body communicates with the spinal cord and brain.

Who gets fibromyalgia?

While anyone can get fibromyalgia, women are known to get it much more frequently than men. Fibromyalgia can affect people of any age, but it typically begins around middle age and your risk increases as you age. The condition affects people of all races and ethnicities.

If you have certain conditions, such as rheumatic diseases, mood disorders or osteoarthritis, you are more likely to have fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia runs in families, leading some researchers to believe that certain genes may make you more likely to develop it. However, the condition may occur in people who have absolutely no family history of fibromyalgia.


The main symptoms of fibromyalgia are:

  • Cognitive difficulties. Fibromyalgia may decrease your ability to focus and concentrate.
  • Fatigue. People with fibromyalgia often wake up tired, even though they get adequate sleep.
  • Widespread pain. The pain is often described as a constant, dull ache lasting for at least three months.

What fibromyalgia pain feels like

Symptoms can vary greatly, and because pain is subjective, people experience different variations. There is no adequate, objective explanation for the extent of the pain associated with fibromyalgia, but there are some common types of pain that might be helpful to know.

Many people with fibromyalgia experience a burning pain or a tingling, pins-and-needles pain. Others experience aching all over their body. Some people may complain of painful skin that feels like a sunburn. Many people even experience pain from everyday, seemingly harmless events, like a cool breeze or the light pressure of a handshake.

The pain associated with fibromyalgia runs the gamut from mild to debilitating, and it can also vary in severity throughout the day and from day to day. A fibromyalgia sufferer might have little to no pain today, while tomorrow they are bedridden with severe pain.


Some of the risk factors that have been linked to fibromyalgia include:

  • A family history of fibromyalgia
  • Having an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Having chronic pain disorders
  • A history of infections
  • A history of surgeries
  • Obesity
  • Past or present mental health issues
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking


People with fibromyalgia might experience the following complications:

  • Higher death rates from suicide
  • Higher rates of depression
  • Higher rates of other rheumatic conditions
  • Lower quality of life
  • More hospitalizations

What causes flare-ups?

When symptoms temporarily increase in number or intensity, it is called a flare-up. A flare-up can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Periods of physical or emotional stress are common triggers for fibromyalgia, and include:

  • Childbirth
  • Dealing with grief
  • Infection
  • Injury
  • Significant life changes
  • Surgical operations

Other factors that may trigger a fibromyalgia flare-up can include:

  • Diet changes
  • Exhaustion
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Insomnia
  • Temperature or weather changes

Mood and fibromyalgia

Mood issues are common among fibromyalgia sufferers. Mood swings are troublesome symptoms because they're often unexplainable and difficult to manage.

It is believed that the chemical imbalances in the brain responsible for mood swings are also responsible for fibromyalgia, and that the pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients plays into their mood swings. Constant pain can sap your energy as well as leave you feeling anxious and stressed.

Sleep problems are common for fibromyalgia sufferers, and not getting a good night's sleep can make you more susceptible to mood swings.

Diagnosis and testing

There is no test that can conclusively identify fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is clinically diagnosed based on your symptoms and physical examination. To rule out other reasons of weariness, such as anemia or thyroid disorders, basic blood tests are advised. Your family and medical history, along with your symptoms, are used to make the diagnosis.

People who have fibromyalgia frequently have extremely sensitive pain thresholds, and your healthcare professional may identify the tender or highly sensitive places on your body.

For a positive diagnosis, widespread pain must be present for three months, in addition to exhaustion and other symptoms, such as memory and concentration problems, poor sleep, depressive symptoms and irritability.


Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, symptoms can be alleviated with medications and nondrug treatments.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three drugs for fibromyalgia. Duloxetine (brand name: Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella) alter brain chemicals that help control pain levels. Pregabalin (Lyrica) works by blocking the overactivity of nerve cells associated with pain transmission.

Natural care

People with fibromyalgia can control their symptoms with the aid of natural therapies.

According to research, physical activity is one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia. Along with medication treatment, regular aerobic exercise is recommended. Yoga and tai chi are two body-based therapies that can ease fibromyalgia symptoms, but even if you are in discomfort, low-impact exercise is safe.

It may be beneficial to take advantage of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy that aims to understand how thoughts and behaviors impact pain. A meditation technique called mindfulness, which emphasizes present-moment awareness, can also assist fibromyalgia sufferers in learning pain-relieving techniques to manage symptoms.

Acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage therapy are examples of complementary and alternative therapies that can be effective in managing symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Dating someone with fibromyalgia

If you are dating somebody with fibromyalgia, it's important to learn as much as you can about the disorder. However, fibromyalgia is unpredictable. People with fibromyalgia do not know how they will feel tomorrow or the following week, or even in an hour. They may be energetic and experience minimal problems one day and be bedridden the next. Dating someone with this disorder requires you to be patient, tolerant and considerate.

People with fibromyalgia often experience brain fog, so it's vital that you give your partner time to find the correct words. You may want to politely recommend a word if it seems obvious, and if they forget something, you can politely remind them. You may recommend that your partner write things down on a calendar, make to-do lists or set reminders on their smartphone so important tasks aren't forgotten.

Managing chronic pain during intercourse

The following tips can help you manage chronic fibromyalgia pain during sex:

  • Use lubricants
  • Make use of oral sex or manual stimulation for pleasure
  • Receiving a massage from your partner may help ease the pain
  • Try sexual positions that are more comfortable
  • Try taking your medications at times when they are less likely to interfere with your arousal necessary for sex
  • If deemed necessary by your doctor, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help with libido and energy level

It's important that you have open and honest communication with your partner about the pain you're experiencing during sex. Don't hesitate to speak candidly so you can work through the challenges and dissatisfaction common in a sexual relationship affected by fibromyalgia.


What are the first signs of fibromyalgia?

Some of the first signs of fibromyalgia are fatigue, lack of energy, sleep issues, headaches, muscle cramps or spasms, numbness in extremities, and skin problems such as burning or itching. Many of these symptoms overlap with other disorders, making them tricky to diagnose.

What causes fibromyalgia?

Although the precise cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, it is thought to be related to abnormally high levels of several brain chemicals and alterations in how the central nervous system interprets pain signals sent throughout the body.

Some individuals may be genetically prone to fibromyalgia as a result of parental genes. Physical or psychological factors, such as an accident, illness or stress, may also trigger fibromyalgia.

Does fibromyalgia turn into lupus?

Individuals with fibromyalgia are not more likely to get lupus. However, men and women with lupus are prone to developing fibromyalgia pain. Fibromyalgia can occur alone or be secondary to connective tissue disorders such as lupus. Studies suggest that approximately 25 percent of people who have lupus also have fibromyalgia.