Fibromyalgia in Children, Adolescents and Teens

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain in muscles and soft tissues around the body. It is an ongoing (chronic) condition. It can affect the neck, shoulders, back, chest, hips, buttocks, arms and legs. The pain may be worse in the morning and evening. Sometimes, the pain may occur all day long. The pain may increase with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety and stress. The condition affects about 2 to 4 percent of the U.S. population. It is most common in middle-aged women. But children can also have the condition.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. Researchers think there may be a link with sleep problems and stress. It may also be linked to immune, endocrine, or biochemical problems.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Each child may feel symptoms a bit differently. Chronic pain is the most common symptom of fibromyalgia. The pain most often affects the muscles and the points at which the muscles attach to the bone. These are the ligaments and tendons. Pain may begin in one area of the body, such as the neck and shoulders. Over time the entire body may be affected. The pain ranges from mild to severe. It may feel like burning, soreness, stiffness, aching, or gnawing pain. There may be tender spots of pain in certain areas of the muscles. It may feel similar to arthritis, but it is not a degenerative condition and doesn't cause damage to muscles or bones. Other common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Medium to severe fatigue

  • Sleep problems at night

  • Depressed mood

  • Anxiety

  • Headaches

  • Poor school attendance

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

There are no tests that can confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Instead, diagnosis is based on your child’s symptoms and a physical exam. Blood tests, X-rays, or other tests may be done. These are to rule out other causes of your child’s symptoms.

How is fibromyalgia treated?

Treatment will depend on your child's symptoms, age, and general health. There's no cure for fibromyalgia, but the symptoms can be managed. Mild cases of fibromyalgia may get better with stress reduction or lifestyle changes. Treatment may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications, to relieve pain and improve sleep

  • Other pain medications

  • Exercise and physical therapy, to stretch muscles and improve cardiovascular fitness

  • Relaxation methods to help relieve pain

  • Heat treatments

  • Occasional cold treatments

  • Massage

  • Short-term use of antidepressant medication at bedtime, to improve sleep and mood

Talk with your health care providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medications.

Helping your child live with fibromyalgia

It is not known if fibromyalgia in a child continues into adulthood. The pain and fatigue can affect a child’s quality of life and may cause depression. Talk with your child’s health care provider if you think your child has depression. Help your child manage his or her symptoms by sticking to the treatment plan. This includes getting enough sleep. Encourage exercise and physical therapy and find ways to make it fun. Work with your child’s school to make sure your child has help as needed. Your child may also qualify for special help under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

If your child’s symptoms get worse or he or she has new symptoms, let the healthcare provider know.

Key points about fibromyalgia

  • Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain in muscles and soft tissues around the body.

  • Symptoms may also include fatigue, sleep problems, depression, headaches, and other problems.

  • Treatment can include medication, exercise, relaxation, heat or cold, and massage.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Medical Reviewer: Fincannon, Joy, RN, MN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/10/2014
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