Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.

Women are much more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men. Many people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression.

What causes fibromyalgia?

Doctors don't know what causes fibromyalgia, but it most likely involves a variety of factors working together. These may include:

  • Genetics. Because fibromyalgia tends to run in families, there may be certain genetic mutations that may make you more susceptible to developing the disorder.
  • Infections. Some illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia.
  • Physical or emotional trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder has been linked to fibromyalgia.

Why does it hurt?

Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). In addition, the brain's pain receptors seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals.

Can it be treated?

While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a variety of medications can help control pain and other symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction measures also may help.

Feb. 21, 2014