Understanding fibromyalgia – diagnosis and medication that help

A woman has fibromyalgia symptoms on her back

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Understanding Fibromyalgia

Joint pain, muscle aches, brain fog, fatigue; these symptoms can indicate a number of physical conditions.  But, for millions of people they are the symptoms associated with Fibromyalgia.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health states that as many as 4 million Americans have Fibromyalgia, with most patients being diagnosed between ages 35 to 45 years of age.

What is fibromyalgia?

Also known as fibromyalgia syndrome, this physical condition is a group of symptoms that occur together.  It is believed that fibromyalgia is a result of the interpreting pain and other physical sensations incorrectly, which makes the patient extremely sensitive to noise, exertion, hot or cold temperatures, and physical touch or pressure.  

Fibromyalgia is real

There are a lot of people who, unfortunately, do not believe that fibromyalgia is real. This negative assumption leads many who suffer from fibromyalgia to feel isolated, depressed and even frustrated that they are not taken seriously.   For some patients even getting their doctor to understand that their pain is not because of poor lifestyle habits, inactivity, laziness or weight may be difficult.  Fibromyalgia is a very real syndrome. 

Fibromyalgia symptoms

Symptoms vary from patient to patient, and there may be extended periods of severe pain (known as fibro flares) or mild discomfort, varying from mild to extreme.  The most common symptom is chronic overall body aches and muscle pains.  Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue that is not relieved by sleep
  • Problems sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps
  • Sensitivity to temperatures, such as heat or cold
  • Morning exhaustion
  • Mood instability
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Memory problems – often referred to as ‘fibro fog’
  • Depression
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Stress and change of weather can cause fibromyalgia to flare up, leading to an increase in the level of symptoms and discomfort.

Diagnosis of fibromyalgia

As stated earlier, the symptoms of fibromyalgia may be very similar to other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, among others.  Diagnosing someone with fibromyalgia can be quite difficult and may include several tests to rule out other medical conditions first. There are two criteria that most doctors will use to begin to diagnose someone with fibromyalgia, and they are whether the patient has had widespread body pain for more than three months and whether memory and/or sleep problems are experienced.

Medication for fibromyalgia

While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there is hope for the management of fibromyalgia. The FDA has approved three main medications for managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia.  These medications are sometimes used together as part of a treatment regime, along with other medications.

Duloxetine (Cymbalta)

Prescription duloxetine is used to help relieve the nerve pain (also known as peripheral neuropathy) associated with fibromyalgia.  It belongs to a class of medications known as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).    Learn more about how duloxetine works.

Milnacipran (Savella)

Prescription milnacipran is prescribed to treat the muscle, tendon, and ligament pain associated with fibromyalgia.  It is also an SNRI.  Learn more about how milnacipran works.

Pregabalin (Lyrica)

Prescription pregabalin is used to relieve the muscle stiffness and muscle pain associated with fibromyalgia.

Lifestyle tips for the management of fibromyalgia

It is unfortunate that some patients truly suffer with fibromyalgia symptoms, to the extent that they can no longer work or participate in physical activities like they used to.  


Some patients find that attending therapy helps manage the emotional toll that living with chronic pain can take.  Depression and anxiety may be difficult to manage alone, so having the support of a therapist and/or group support can be beneficial.

Sleep and self-care

Sleep is a major issue for fibromyalgia patients.  Falling asleep and staying asleep can be very difficult, so patients are advised to go to bed early and try to get at least eight hours of sleep per night and rest in the evening to help you relax and prepare for sleep.

Exercise may seem like the last thing someone with chronic pain and fatigue would want to do, but there is evidence that light exercise such as walking, can actually help reduce the pain of fibromyalgia, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. A study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, which focused on women ages 18 to 50 with fibromyalgia, showed that pool exercises were even better at relieving fibromyalgia pain than gym-based exercises or even home-based exercises involving stretching and weight training.

Staying positive and living life to its fullest

When faced with a chronic condition that involves daily pain and fatigue, it’s important to remember that there is hope.  With certain medications and lifestyle changes, the right support and the determination, there is hope that patients can and will live a positive and full life.

Where to find support

If you are looking for more information about fibromyalgia, the following organizations may be able to help you find what you need.

National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) 

Providing information, assistance, resources , education and support for over 20 years.

National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association

Support groups, information, community, resources and more.

If you have questions about your prescription medications or any other medication, please contact Canada Online Health by calling toll free 1-800-399-DRUG (3784). One of the representatives will be happy to assist you or transfer you to a licensed Canadian pharmacist for a free consultation.

This article contains medical information provided to help you better understand this particular medical condition or process, and may contain information about medication often used as part of a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor.  It is not intended to be used as either a diagnosis or recommendation for treatment of your particular medical situation.  If you are unwell, concerned about your physical or mental state, or are experiencing symptoms you should speak with your doctor or primary health care provider. If you are in medical distress please contact emergency services (such as 911). 

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