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Is Fibromyalgia Considered a Mental Illness?

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Ask a Doctor

I have a coworker who is always missing work because of fibromyalgia pain. She also takes medication for depression and anxiety. I read up a little bit on fibromyalgia and found it’s a neuropathic disorder with no known causes, but often people with depression have fibromyalgia pain. Could it be something psychosomatic or otherwise all in her head? Is fibromyalgia considered a mental illness?

Doctor’s Response

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread pain all over the body and tender points that are sensitive to the touch.

It is not considered a mental illness, but many people with fibromyalgia also experience depression and/or anxiety. In fact, patients with fibromyalgia are three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general population.

Fibromyalgia can also cause mental health symptoms, including:

  • Fibrofog: Another common symptom is a mental haziness some people call fibrofog. This refers to the inability to concentrate, memory loss, and depression that occurs with fibromyalgia.
  • Other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia are insomnia and nervousness.

Treatment with antidepressants can be effective in treating depression and some of the other symptoms of fibromyalgia.

While there is no known cause for fibromyalgia, recent research has revealed some new facts about the disease. One of the new discoveries is that people with fibromyalgia process pain differently. The level of chemical in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) called substance P, which transmits pain impulses to the brain, is three times higher in people with the disease than in those who do not have the condition. This likely causes someone with fibromyalgia to experience pain more intensely.

Other researchers believe fibromyalgia is caused by a lack of deep sleep. It is during stage 4 sleep that muscles recover from the prior day's activity, and the body refreshes itself. Sleep studies show that as people with fibromyalgia enter stage 4 sleep, they become more aroused and stay in a lighter form of sleep. Even though they may sleep for a long period of time, they get poor quality sleep. Also, when researchers took normal volunteers and did not allow them to enter into stage 4 sleep, they developed widespread pain symptoms similar to those of fibromyalgia patients.

For more information, read our full medical article on fibromyalgia.

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Reviewed on 5/7/2019
Sources: References
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