A woman with fibromyalgia sitting at her desk with her laptop

Fibromyalgia – Overview, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Over the past few years, many world-renowned scientists took interest in fibromyalgia and the available approaches to address this chronic condition.

Today, the management of fibromyalgia has become more mainstream due to the substantial number of patients affected by this disease.

In this article, we will cover the definition, causes, and symptoms of fibromyalgia. We will also discuss the role of nutrition in treating fibromyalgia.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that presents with pain in the muscles and bones, generalized fatigue, sleep disorders, and cognitive disturbances.

Many scientists have trouble comprehending the aspects of fibromyalgia. The reason for this boils down to its vague clinical presentation that resembles many other diseases. Additionally, we do not have any biological or imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis.

In fact, these factors made many healthcare providers question the existence of this condition. However, we are equipped with more evidence about fibromyalgia.

With that said, the treatment of this condition remains a challenge, with the fluctuating effectiveness of certain medications.

What causes fibromyalgia?

Similar to other chronic conditions with vague pathophysiology, scientists are not able to identify the exact causes of fibromyalgia.

According to research, the cause of fibromyalgia seems to be a combination of genetic predisposition with environmental factors.

In other words, if you are already genetically predisposed to developing fibromyalgia, certain triggers (e.g., infection, trauma) could manifest this condition.

The signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia primarily presents with what is known as regional pain. Differently put, the pain appears in specific regions of the body that could overlap with one another. Patients also experience areas of tenderness (e.g., trigger points).

Patients with fibromyalgia describe the pain as dull and achy.

Pain is so important that it’s the main criterium used to diagnose fibromyalgia. Your physician will add this condition to his/her differential diagnoses if you experience musculoskeletal pain in 4/5 regions of pain noted in the fibromyalgia diagnostic criteria (2016).

Healthcare providers refer to this protocol as multisite pain.

Besides pain, fibromyalgia could present with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disorders
  • Non-refreshing sleep (i.e., sleeping for long periods but feeling tired)
  • Lack of concentration and focus
  • Dry eyes
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

The hypothesis to explain these symptoms revolves around the hypersensitivity of the brain to non-painful stimuli. The nerves misinterpret normal signals, which may be due to neurotransmitter imbalance in the brain. Furthermore, fibromyalgia may affect your emotions and energy level.

How to treat fibromyalgia

Treating fibromyalgia with medication might be effective in relieving pain and improving sleep quality.

Here are some commonly suggested drugs for fibromyalgia:


The pain and discomfort of fibromyalgia can be severe enough to interfere with the patient’s daily routine.

For mild pain, you may benefit from the following over-the-counter drugs:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Aside from relieving pain, these drugs can also dampen inflammation. While the latter may not play a crucial role in inflammation, it could still precipitate related conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.


Duloxetine and milnacipran can treat fatigue and pain. The exact mechanism that relieves fibromyalgia symptoms is unclear. However, researchers believe that these drugs restore chemical balance to the brain.

Note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved both drugs for the treatment of fibromyalgia.

Some medications that haven’t yet been approved by FDA include sleep aids and muscle relaxants.

Antiseizure drugs

Pregabalin has also received FDA approval for the treatment of fibromyalgia. These substances block the neuronal transmission of pain signals.

Nutrition and fibromyalgia

Nutrition seems to play an important role in the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

By including or eliminating certain food elements, you can expect your symptoms to either improve or worsen.

Note that it is important to consult with your doctor before making any drastic dietary changes.

Focus on getting all the nutrients

Eating healthy food is essential for everyone, especially people with fibromyalgia. Including fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein is very beneficial for individuals with fibromyalgia.

Additionally, avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, and saturated fats will inevitably help your condition.

Eat for energy

Fibromyalgia triggers feelings of exhaustion and fatigue. To compensate, you need foods that promote energy levels. Examples include foods that contain protein and fats with less levels of carbohydrates.

Here is a list of foods that promote energy:

  • Almonds and other nuts and seeds
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli
  • Beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Tofu

Go vegetarian

According to several studies, following a vegetarian or vegan diet improves symptoms of fibromyalgia. Researchers believe that the high content of antioxidants in these foods is the primary reason that drives the benefits seen with the vegetarian diet.

In a study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, scientists found that vegetarians experience less pain.

With that said, the vegetarian or vegan diet is not appropriate for everyone due to its restrictive properties.


Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) refer to carbohydrates that get fermented by gut bacteria in the digestive tract. These foods often trigger symptoms in people.

According to one study, researchers found that the symptoms of fibromyalgia improved after following a diet with low FODMAP. Moreover, participants reported weight loss and improved quality of life.

Gluten sensitivity

In a 2014 study, experts reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity as a potential underlying cause of fibromyalgia. Patients with fibromyalgia who tested negative for celiac disease experienced symptomatic improvement after sticking to a gluten-free diet.

These findings suggest that gluten sensitivity may play a role in the pathogenesis of fibromyalgia.

If you suspect that your condition is the result of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it would not hurt to exclude this element from your diet, while you monitor your symptoms using your diary.


The journal Pain Management reported that eliminating aspartame, altered proteins (e.g., protein isolates, hydrolyzed protein), and monosodium glutamate (MSG) significantly improved the symptoms of pain in patients with fibromyalgia.

To confirm this finding, researchers added these elements to the diet of participants. Consequently, symptoms reappeared again.

Takeaway message

Fibromyalgia is a common condition that is often misdiagnosed. Due to the vague clinical presentation and overlapping symptoms of this disease, healthcare providers often have trouble diagnosing and treating it.

We hope that this article managed to highlight the basic principles of fibromyalgia. If you tried other at-home measures that helped with your symptoms, please don’t hesitate to share your knowledge in the comment section below.

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