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The Common Signs of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a painful and debilitating disorder that severely impacts many people. In fact, researchers estimate that around 2% of the adult population in the US suffers from this condition. This disorder can be difficult to identify because the signs of fibromyalgia can easily be confused with other disorders. If you think you may have some of the symptoms of this disorder, then here’s what you need to know.

What is Fibromyalgia?

An image of a woman hugging her knee in painFibromyalgia is a neurological disease brought on by problems with the central nervous system. It’s most common among older people and often develops after an event such as surgery, physical trauma, stress, or infection. This condition runs in families, so there may also be a genetic component. And you’re also more likely to develop fibromyalgia if you’re female or have other disorders like lupus or arthritis.

Many medical professionals believe that fibromyalgia is caused by changes in the brain and spinal cord brought on by repeated nerve stimulation. These changes are also accompanied by increases in the levels of brain chemicals that signal pain. This can lead to over-sensitization of the brain’s pain receptors and ongoing overreactions to normally painless nerve signals.

The signs of fibromyalgia tend to appear and worsen over time, which is why this condition can be difficult to identify. It can cause a range of symptoms and problems that will interfere with your overall health and quality of life.

There is no known cure for fibromyalgia, though medications can be used to manage symptoms. Certain lifestyle changes can also help to manage the condition.

Primary Signs of Fibromyalgia

The primary symptom of fibromyalgia is pain in muscles and joints throughout the body. This is a fairly unspecific symptom, which is why there are strict criteria for identifying this disorder. The pain must:

  • Last more than 3 months
  • Be in a specific number of body areas
  • Be over a certain number on the severity score
  • Not be attributable to another condition that could cause the same pain, such as arthritis

You must meet all of these conditions before your doctor will identify your condition as fibromyalgia. That's why it's so important that you keep a complete history of your symptoms, so that you can give your doctor an accurate picture of what's happening.

Common Signs of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia can be very individual. Symptoms can come on gradually and go almost unnoticed until they get quite severe. That’s why this condition can be so hard for your doctor to identify. Some of the most common signs of fibromyalgia are:

  • Widespread musculoskeletal pain that lasts for more than 3 months
  • Muscle twitches or cramps
  • Sleep problems or disorders
  • Memory issues
  • Fatigue
  • Mood problems
  • Dry eyes
  • Sleeping for long periods without feeling restored
  • Cognitive difficulties like a poor attention span

Many people with fibromyalgia also experience other conditions or problems such as:

  • Migraine or headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders
  • Postural tachycardia syndrome
  • Interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

As you can tell, the signs of fibromyalgia are many and varied, so make sure that you visit your doctor if you suspect that you have this condition.

What to Do About Fibromyalgia

An image of a man having a backpainYour doctor can identify if you have fibromyalgia by doing blood work, taking X-rays, and performing a physical exam that includes your medical history. Once your doctor has correctly identified this disorder, you can manage it using a team of professionals to ensure a holistic approach.

Common strategies for managing the signs of fibromyalgia are:

  • Education
  • Medications or supplements to relieve pain
  • Exercise to strengthen the cardiovascular system and muscles without causing additional strain on the body
  • Stress management strategies such as yoga or meditation
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help address depression or other mood issues
  • Getting to the root cause of inflammation

This can be a complicated process, so it’s important that you work with your doctor to ensure the best outcome.

Fibromyalgia and Adrenal Fatigue

Fibromyalgia can be strongly linked to adrenal fatigue. Both of these conditions can be brought on by poor health and stress, which is why it’s fairly common to experience both of these conditions at the same time. However, there’s no evidence at this stage that either disorder can directly bring on the other, though they may contribute in several different ways.

Adrenal fatigue occurs when you experience physical, emotional, or mental stress over a prolonged period. This overworks the adrenal glands, which produce the stress hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol is an essential part of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response, the body’s response to stress and its best defense against its harmful effects. The NEM stress response is comprised of 6 circuits, all of which change their functioning during stressful times. When these changes continue for too long and the circuits can’t return to their normal level of functioning, they can become imbalanced, and the individual parts of the circuits can start to malfunction.

When the NEM stress response and the adrenal glands begin to decline in health because of this overwork, it can develop into Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). This is a little-understood condition that involves all of the body’s circuits and results in debilitating symptoms that gradually get worse over time if the stress isn’t alleviated.

When the body’s circuits become unbalanced because of AFS, you will experience a range of problems and symptoms. Many people who get to this stage of AFS often develop fibromyalgia or other chronic conditions as well because of high-stress levels and problems with the Inflammation Circuit.

Fibromyalgia and the Inflammation Circuit

Inflammation is a natural process that’s designed to protect your body against threats. But when it becomes chronic, it can also be very dangerous. Low grade, chronic inflammation occurs when you’re stressed, due to certain diet or lifestyle factors, or have conditions like fibromyalgia. In these types of situations, the inflammation you experience is no longer helpful. Instead, it reflects an imbalance in the Inflammation circuit that will make you more susceptible to disease. When this occurs, you’re much more likely to develop chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.

The Inflammation Circuit includes the gut, immune system, and the microbiome, or the balance of bacteria in your body. These components work together and separately to help resolve stress and to perform their own individual functions.

When the Inflammation Circuit becomes unbalanced because of AFS, the health of the separate components of the circuit starts to decline. This decline in functioning may cause or contribute to the signs of fibromyalgia in the following ways:


Fibromyalgia causes a range of symptoms and problems that will increase the amount of inflammation in your body. This can worsen adrenal fatigue as well.

The inflammation that you experience because of fibromyalgia can bring on or exacerbate gut problems like IBS, diarrhea, or constipation. These are also common with AFS. Inflammation is also linked to food sensitivities, which worsen the health of the gut and cause even more inflammation.

And finally, inflammation can also negatively affect the bacterial balance in your body. This can cause or worsen the overgrowth of bad bacteria and may worsen fibromyalgia as well as AFS.


The most common signs of fibromyalgia cause stress. These symptoms will further activate your NEM stress response and increase the body’s demand for cortisol, worsening AFS.

The stress caused by the pain, gut problems, and mood disorders associated with fibromyalgia will directly impact the health of the gut, immune system, and microbiome. Stress will add to the over-activation of the immune system, resulting in further imbalances and more inflammation. It will also worsen any gut problems you experience and further impede the growth of good bacteria in your body.

As a result of all these symptoms and the resulting stress, you may experience a worsening of your AFS because of the stress caused by fibromyalgia.

The Takeaway

An image of a woman massaging her shoulderIf you believe that you have some of the signs of fibromyalgia, then it’s very important that you visit your doctor immediately. They will be able to identify what’s happening and identify strategies that may help improve your health and your overall outcome. Here’s what to do if you experience some of the common symptoms of fibromyalgia:

  1. Keep track of your symptoms so you can give your doctor an accurate picture of what’s happening.
  2. See your doctor as soon as possible for advice and support.
  3. Take a look at your lifestyle to identify what factors could be impacting your overall condition and health.

For help with fibromyalgia or other nerve issues, click here to use the ask a doctor system or call our team on +1 (626) 571-1234.

© Copyright 2016-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The signs of fibromyalgia are many, varied, and can be attributed to a range of other disorders and problems. That’s why it’s vital that you shop around to find the right help and advice when you believe that you’re experiencing this condition.

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