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What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic (long-lasting) syndrome that causes widespread pain in the muscles, joints, and other soft tissues. In kids, it is sometimes called juvenile primary fibromyalgia syndrome.

Although fibromyalgia (fy-bro-my-AL-ja) is a chronic condition, its symptoms typically come and go. They can be mild at times, then so severe at others that they interfere with normal activities.

What Happens With Fibromyalgia?

Most kids and teens with fibromyalgia complain of widespread muscle pain, usually a dull or burning kind, but sometimes more of a shooting or throbbing pain. Widespread means the pain happens on both sides of the body, above and below the waist. The pain can range from mild to severe.

Fatigue (tiredness) is another common complaint of kids with fibromyalgia. Because of this, fibromyalgia can have symptoms that are similar to chronic fatigue syndrome. Sometimes, a person can have both conditions.

Fibromyalgia also can cause sleeping problems that make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Some kids may have other sleep disorders like restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea. Poor sleep can lead to waking up with body aches and stiffness that may improve during the day, then get worse again at night.

Other signs of fibromyalgia can include:

People with fibromyalgia might find that certain things — from emotional stress to cold, damp weather — make their symptoms worse.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Doctors aren’t really sure what causes fibromyalgia. But most agree that the brains of people who have it sense pain differently. They might feel pain in response to things (like stress) that aren’t normally painful.

Some cases of fibromyalgia seem to be triggered by an event — like an infection or illness, physical injury, or emotional upset. Genetics also might play a role as fibromyalgia sometimes runs in families. 

How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

If your child is having pain, is very tired, or has sleep problems, call your doctor. No specific test can diagnose fibromyalgia. But doctors can do tests to rule out other possible causes, such as thyroid disorders, infectious diseases, or rheumatic diseases (like juvenile idiopathic arthritis).

Because fibromyalgia can’t be confirmed by any lab tests and has few, if any, visible signs, it can be hard for doctors to diagnose it. This can be frustrating for someone who has the condition. For some people, a fibromyalgia diagnosis can take years.

Doctors diagnose fibromyalgia in someone based on medical history, the person’s symptoms, and an exam. Most people with fibromyalgia will have widespread musculoskeletal aches lasting for at least 3 months, with no other medical problem causing the pain.

How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?

Treatment for fibromyalgia focuses on managing the pain and other symptoms. This often involves a combination of medicines and lifestyle changes, such as exercise, relaxation, and stress-management techniques. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but treatment can improve the quality of life for those who have it.

Before giving medicines, doctors usually will try other treatments, such as:

  • Regular exercise. This may increase pain at first, but exercise can help ease symptoms when done over time and regularly. Some kids and teens benefit from working with a physical therapist. Others can show improvement from stretching and relaxation exercises.
  • Stress-relief methods. This can include yoga, t’ai chi, and other methods, as well as light massage, breathing exercises, and acupuncture.
  • Good sleep. Getting enough sleep is one of the most effective ways to treat fibromyalgia. Kids with fibromyalgia should try to avoid caffeine and sugary beverages and snacks late in the day. They also should go to bed and get up at the same time each day and limit napping during the daytime.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices. This includes eating a healthy diet and finding activities that help distract from the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

For some, changing the way they think about their condition helps improve their symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapy used by mental health professionals, can help kids and teens learn to filter out negative thoughts, recognize what makes symptoms worse, and set limits to keep symptoms in check.

If these steps aren’t enough to manage symptoms, the doctor may prescribe medicines. Some used to treat fibromyalgia include:

Antidepressants. Some prescription antidepressants can ease pain and tiredness, and help promote better sleep.

Anti-seizure medicines. Some drugs used to treat epilepsy also help treat fibromyalgia symptoms.

How Can Parents Help?

Besides helping your child manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia, be sure to offer emotional support. Talking about the condition and coming up with ways to cope can help.

Many young people also find that talking with a mental health professional can help them learn to manage their symptoms, feel better, and have a more positive outlook on life. Local and online support groups can help too. To find information and support online, visit: