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International Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

Spreading awareness of this little-understood condition which affects millions of people and as of yet has no cure.

Man suffering from fibromyalgia

about INTERNATIONAL Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

International Fibromyalgia Awareness Day is all about raising awareness of this not widely known disease and supporting further research into eventually finding a cure. Each year, observers of this day get together and take part in various events to get the conversation going. It helps to further inform people who may not yet understand the extent of what fibromyalgia does to those who experience it. By understanding fibromyalgia and spreading awareness of it, we have the better chance of supporting people suffering from the disease and discovering a way to make their lives better.

what IS Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. In fibromyalgia, there seems to be a problem with the way the brain and nervous system process pain. This means that people feel pain, even when there isn’t any physical damage to the muscles or other tissues. It's not clear why some people develop fibromyalgia, but there are certain factors which seem to increase the risk:

  • Genetics Some research has suggested genetics might play a small part in the development of fibromyalgia. People might be more likely to get fibromyalgia at some point in their life if one of their close relatives has it.

  • Possible triggers Fibromyalgia can be triggered by a stressful event. This might be a physically or an emotionally (psychologically) stressful event. Possible triggers of fibromyalgia include a serious injury, a viral infection, having a major operation, giving birth, and significant emotional trauma, such as the death of a loved one, being in abusive relationship, or serving in the armed forces during active combat.

  • Associated conditions There are other conditions often associated with fibromyalgia. Generally, these are rheumatic conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

It’s estimated that somewhere between 1.8 million and 2.9 million people in the UK have fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia can affect anyone including children, but it most commonly develops between the ages of 25 and 55. It appears that more women are diagnosed with fibromyalgia than men.

what ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia has many symptoms that tend to vary from person to person. The main symptom is widespread pain in the body, that might feel like an ache, a burning sensation, or a sharp stabbing pain. Other symptoms include:

  • extreme sensitivity to pain– even a slight touch may seem painful

  • increased sensitivity to sensations like light, temperature, and noise - being exposed to something you're sensitive to can cause your other fibromyalgia symptoms to flare up

  • muscle stiffness - may be most severe when you have been in the same position for a long period of time

  • fatigue - this can range from feeling mildly tired to the exhaustion often felt during a flu-like illness

  • sleeping difficulties - the condition can sometimes prevent you sleeping deeply enough to refresh you properly

  • problems with cognitive processes (known as “fibro-fog”) – like problems with memory and concentration

  • headaches - these can vary from being mild headaches to severe migraines

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - a common digestive condition that causes pain and bloating in your stomach. It can also lead to constipation or diarrhoea.

  • restless legs syndrome - an overwhelming urge to move your legs

  • feeling too hot or too cold – this is because you're not able to regulate your body temperature properly

  • dizziness and clumsiness

  • tingling, numbness, prickling or burning sensations in your hands and feet (pins and needles)

  • in women, unusually painful periods

  • anxiety and depression

Watch a video below in which three women share their own personal experiences of living with fibromyalgia and speak about the symptoms they have:

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia

Diagnosing fibromyalgia can be very difficult as there's no specific test to diagnose the condition. The symptoms of fibromyalgia can vary from person to person and they can be similar to those of several other conditions. Your GP will have to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms to fibromyalgia. You’ll be asked about how your symptoms are affecting your daily life. It may help your doctor understand the problems you’re having if you make a list of any physical or psychological problems you’ve experienced. They will probably then carry out a physical examination to check for signs of other conditions. You may also have some other tests like urine and blood tests, an X-ray or other scans. If you’re found to have another condition, you could still have fibromyalgia as well. Identifying all possible conditions will help guide your treatment.

TREATMENT OF Fibromyalgia

Although there’s currently no cure, there are treatments, therapies and self-management techniques that can improve your quality of life. Your GP can advise you on treatments and therapies that tackle specific symptoms. These may include:

  • Medication

Antidepressants are sometimes used to help relieve the pain of fibromyalgia. They can also help improve your sleep, emotional health and overall quality of life, even in the absence of a diagnosis of depression. Antidepressants that are often used to treat fibromyalgia include amitriptyline, fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram, paroxetine, sertraline and duloxetine.

  • Physiotherapy

A physiotherapist can help you develop self-management skills to reduce the impact of pain on your life. They might help you create a tailored exercise programme suited to your needs, abilities and goals.

  • Psychological therapies

Psychological approaches to pain management try to address the emotional effects of your pain and the things that can make your pain worse. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can help you learn to accept what is out of your control and commit to making changes that will improve your life, while cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.

Your GP may refer you to the pain clinic where you could get support from a wide range of professionals, such as specialist pain consultants, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and psychologists. In the pain clinic you could also be offered a pain management programme (PMP). The aim of a PMP is to improve your quality of life, despite your pain, rather than reducing your pain. This is usually delivered through a series of group sessions with other people who suffer from persistent pain.

Session about fibromyalgia during pain management clinic


If you have fibromyalgia, there are several ways to change your lifestyle to help relieve your symptoms and make your condition easier to live with.

  • Exercise

If you’re in pain, your instinct may be to avoid exercise or moving around too much. However, staying active is a crucial part of the treatment for fibromyalgia and can prevent other health problems. It can help relieve pain and stiffness, increase your strength, improve movement, and boost general wellbeing. It’s usually best to start slowly, gradually building up the time you spend being active each day. You can ask a GP or physiotherapist for examples of strengthening exercises you could do at home. There are also plenty of examples of exercises online but when choosing the type of exercise take into account personal preferences, your lifestyle, health needs and physical ability.

  • Relaxation

Stress can make your symptoms worse or cause them to flare up more often, therefore it's important to regularly take time to relax or practise relaxation techniques. You could try, for example, progressive muscle relaxation which may help you to manage your pain levels and perception of pain.

  • Diet and nutrition

Although there's no particular diet that’s been proven to help with the symptoms of fibromyalgia, it’s recommended that you keep to a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet that is low in saturated fats, sugar and salt, and has plenty of fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. It’s also important to stay hydrated by drinking six to eight glasses of water every day.

To find out more about fibromyalgia and how it can be managed, please watch a recorded webinar from the NHS University Hospitals Dorset Foundation Trust:

There are many support groups, charities, and websites offering help to people with fibromyalgia. This may include resources like booklets, podcasts and video, online and face to face support groups, telephone helplines, and forums. Here are few of the places you can turn to for additional information and support:

Supporting People With Fibromyalgia In the workplace

Woman with fibromyalgia working in the factory

Due to the fluctuating nature of fibromyalgia, the symptoms can vary day-to-day, which can make it difficult to maintain a consistent level of working. The most common symptoms that can affect whether an employee can continue carrying out their job normally are wide spread pain, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction ("fibro fog"). Some employees may face barriers in the workplace such as:

  • Taking time off when they are having a flare-up of symptoms

  • A lack of understanding from employers and colleagues

  • Employers’ reluctance to make adjustments

If fibromyalgia has a substantial and long-term adverse impact on a person's ability to carry out normal day to day activities, they are classified as disabled and are covered by the Equality Act 2010. This means that employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments and support people with fibromyalgia in the workplace. It's important to emphasize that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Employers need to understand an employee's individual situation, as fibromyalgia affects everyone differently, and any specific adjustments will depend on the person's individual needs and symptoms. Many of the adjustments that can be hugely beneficial for employees with fibromyalgia are inexpensive, small and easy to implement. These may include:

  • Changing working arrangements, e.g. changing contracted hours, enabling employees to work from home, or changing start and finish times to avoid the rush hour

  • Allowing short, frequent breaks so employees can stretch and change their posture to prevent pain and fatigue

  • Changing or rotating tasks to suit what an employee can do

  • Providing adapted computer equipment, such as ergonomic keyboards and mouse, voice-activated software, headsets for those employees who spend a large amount of time on the phone, or memory aids such as personal organisers where "fibro fog" is a problem

  • Providing better ergonomic seating or changing the position of office equipment and furniture to reduce pain and fatigue

  • Moving the work station to a quieter area, using partitions and room dividers to minimise distractions, keeping the workplace at a comfortable temperature, using daylight bulbs, installing efficient extractors if fumes or strong smells are produced when employee has increased sensitivity to light, temperature, noise and smell

  • Providing equipment to help with driving, for example specialist car seats or cushions

  • Providing anti-fatigue matting or a perching stool if an employee is standing a lot in their job

Although it may be challenging for people with fibromyalgia to manage their condition, with the right care, support and guidance, many of the issues that they are facing in the workplace can be overcome so they can remain in their job and be productive. Through our Management Referral Service, the Occupational Health Advisors can advise on reasonable adjustments and provide guidance on how to support the employee on an ongoing basis.

Living with fibromyalgia can be emotionally challenging, therefore it’s crucial that organisations prioritise employees' mental wellbeing and provide them with support services such as counselling and EAP schemes. At Corazon Health we are able to organise both face to face and telephone counselling sessions for your employees. All sessions are conducted by practitioners registered with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy who can help employee to address feelings and learn ways to cope with challenges. We also offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which provides 24/7, 365 counselling line and medical information line where qualified nurses and advisors are on-hand to offer support and guidance on a range of issues.

Employer's guide Working with fibromyalgia from Fibromyalgia Action UK can provide you with further information on how fibromyalgia can affect someone in the workplace and what can be done to support employee so they can remain in employment. Also, the charity has prepared Employee's guide Working with fibromyalgia for employees which has some useful information on what they can do to help themselves and where they can access additional help.

Supporting your employee to continue working with their fibromyalgia has a number of benefits to your business. You can not only reduce sickness absence and increase productivity, but also retain a skilled and valuable employee, saving both time and money recruiting a replacement.

Man with fibromyalgia working in the office




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