Fibromyalgia (FM) is a common and chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain, diffuse tenderness, and a number of other symptoms. The pain is widespread, affecting all four quadrants of the body, and can be severe enough to interfere with routine daily activities. It migrates, can be achy, throbbing, shooting, or stabbing, and is worse in areas used most, like the neck or back.
Individuals often say they awaken feeling as if they hadn't slept. A sudden onset of profound fatigue can occur during or following exertion. Many other symptoms are common to fibromyalgia, including stiffness on waking, memory and concentration problems, excessive sensitivity of the senses, headaches, Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ), irritable bowel, and bladder and muscle spasm.
Fibrositis, an older name, is still used interchangeably with fibromyalgia.
Although fibromyalgia is often considered an arthritis-related condition and is usually diagnosed and treated by rheumatologists, it is not truly a form of arthritis (a disease of the joints) because it does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints, muscles, or other tissues.
It is often associated with the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) and sometimes confused with it.
Research authorities vary in viewpoint as to the relation of FM and ME/CFS, but the best research to date indicates that the two illnesses, while often associated, are different and separable—both in nature of causation and in their pathophysiologies (effects on processes in the body.)
The fact that the two illnesses are the province of separate specialties can also lead to diagnostic problems. As a rheumatologist is trained in rheumatological illnesses, there are occurrences of ME/CFS being diagnosed as FM when the physician is not well versed in the diagnosis of ME/CFS. And an infectious disease specialist may be prone to misdiagnosing FM as ME/CFS.
Therefore, when there is doubt about which illness a patient has, s/he should become familiar with the differences between the two illnesses and seek a physician who knows how to diagnose both illnesses.
Note that it is very common for a patient to be diagnosed with both FM and ME/CFS.