Fibromyalgia--management of a misunderstood disorder

J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2007 Jul;19(7):341-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-7599.2007.00235.x.


Purpose: The purpose of this article is to review (a) what is currently known about the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia (FM), (b) how to identify patients who are susceptible to this disorder, and (c) the recommended pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatment options.

Data sources: Data sources include reviews and original research from scholarly journals and Internet sites.

Conclusions: There are approximately 6 million individuals in the United States diagnosed with FM, making it the third most prevalent rheumatologic disorder in this country. Failure to identify a specific causal mechanism for FM has resulted in a shift in the focus of research from etiology to treatment (Baumstark & Buckelew, 2002). Based on the literature, the most successful interventions for reduction of chronic symptoms in the FM patient is a combination of education, psychological assistance, and exercise, along with medications. It is essential that nurse practitioners (NPs) understand the issues and concerns of patients afflicted with this complex disorder. Although the organic etiology of FM syndrome remains unclear, the goals of treatment are to control pain and improve adjustment, well-being, and daily functioning of these patients to the maximum extent possible.

Implications for practice: NPs are in a unique position to help identify patients who may be suffering from FM or those diagnosed with FM reporting inadequate relief of symptoms. The incomplete understanding of the biological underpinnings, as well as the multiple symptoms that characterize FM syndrome, make it a challenging disorder to diagnose and treat. It takes time and patience to care for FM patients, and there are no "quick fixes." Diagnosis is made by a combination of patient history, physical examination, laboratory evaluations, and exclusion of other causes of symptoms confused with FM. Understanding the symptomology and recommended treatments will allow NPs to give appropriate care that may include making referrals for multidisciplinary treatment of these complex patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Causality
  • Chronic Disease
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Exercise
  • Fibromyalgia / diagnosis*
  • Fibromyalgia / epidemiology
  • Fibromyalgia / physiopathology
  • Fibromyalgia / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Medical History Taking
  • Neuromuscular Agents / therapeutic use
  • Nurse Practitioners / organization & administration*
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nursing Assessment
  • Patient Care Planning
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Physical Examination
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Serotonin / blood
  • Serotonin / deficiency
  • Social Support
  • Substance P / cerebrospinal fluid
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Neuromuscular Agents
  • Serotonin
  • Substance P