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According to Versus Arthritis, somewhere between 1.8 million and 2.9 million people in the UK suffer from fibromyalgia. This poorly understood condition often results in chronic pain, fatigue and sleep issues. Although it is not life-threatening, fibromyalgia can severely impact your quality of life. Fibromyalgia causes joint pain, but how is it linked to arthritis? We share more information about the link between the two pain conditions.


What is fibromyalgia?

According to the NHS, Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes widespread pain, as well as extreme fatigue and muscle stiffness.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

· Increased sensitivity to pain;

· Extreme tiredness (fatigue);

· Sleep issues;

· Muscle stiffness (joint pain);

· Problems with mental processes, such as problems with memory and concentration,and

· Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).This is a digestive condition that causes stomach pain, bloating and irregular bowel movements.

Fibromyalgia treatment options

There is no cure for fibromyalgia. However, there are treatment options available to help you manage your symptoms and enjoy daily life.

Treatment for fibromyalgia is usually combination of medication (painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs), talking therapies and lifestyle changes. Common painkillers taken to treat fibromyalgia include: paracetamol, codeine and tramadol. According to the NHS, exercise is one of the most effective treatment options for fibromyalgia. This includes aerobic and muscular strengthening exercises. Exercise helps symptoms by increasing your endurance (how long you can exercise for) and relaxing your muscles.

Your doctor might also prescribe a mixture of antidepressants, anticonvulsants and muscle relaxants. Find out more about these options, as well as complimentary therapies, here.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. According to the NHS, fibromyalgia is believed to be related to abnormal levels of specific brain chemicals. This impacts how your central nervous system (your brain, spinal cord and nerves) processes pain messages carried around your body. It is also believed that some people are more likely to develop fibromyalgia as a result of genetics. Sometimes, the condition appears to be triggered by a trauma, such as giving birth, the breakdown of a relationship, or a bereavement. Versus Arthritis says: “We don’t currently know the exact reason why people get fibromyalgia. But there does seem to be a common link with things such as arthritis, a traumatic event, and mental health and wellbeing”.

“We don’t currently know the exact reason why people get fibromyalgia. But there does seem to be a common link with things such as arthritis, a traumatic event, and mental health and wellbeing” — Versus Arthritis

Fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis

Fibromyalgia causes joint pain, but how is it linked with arthritis? According to the Arthritis Foundation, people with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop fibromyalgia: “People with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or other autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop fibromyalgia. Symptoms usually appear between ages 30 and 55. Although fibromyalgia is more common in adults, children (especially adolescent girls) can develop fibromyalgia,” the charity says.

8.66% of respondents from our Joint Pain Matters 2020 survey have rheumatoid arthritis. These respondents are more likely to suffer from fibromyalgia.

More research needs to be done to understand why arthritis (specifically rheumatoid arthritis) is commonly linked to fibromyalgia.

What we do know, is that rheumatoid arthritis symptoms combined with fibromyalgia symptoms can make life extremely challenging. One respondent said: “I can't sleep. I struggle to walk far. I don't clean my house. I can’t work. I struggle with life every day.”

What is painsomnia?

One of the issues related to these combined symptoms is painsomnia (the vicious cycle of pain and lack of sleep).

More than a third (37.42%) of our 2020 Joint Pain Matters survey respondents say that their sleep is disrupted every night because of joint pain. According to the NHS, fibromyalgia often also results in sleep issues.

While painsomnia is testing, there are coping methods that can help people with chronic pain sleep better. Please read more about painsomnia here.