At one time or another, all of us with fibromyalgia have wondered (and maybe even feared), “Is fibromyalgia progressive? Are my symptoms going to worsen over time?”
Based on current research, fibromyalgia doesn’t appear to be degenerative, but I know a lot of us who live with this debilitating condition – myself included – question that conclusion. For many of us, it definitely feels like it’s getting worse! Without a doubt, my symptoms have advanced and my quality of life has declined since I became sick a few years ago. I know too many of you have had the same experience.
Since the research is still emerging, I thought I would pose the question to a few noted fibromyalgia specialists and researchers and get their opinions on the issue: Is fibromyalgia progressive? I think you’ll find their responses both diverse and interesting.
Dr. Dan Clauw, University of Michigan Medical School’s Chronic Pain & Fatigue Research Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
It is very common for individuals with fibromyalgia to progressively worsen over time, but that does not mean the disease is progressive (which I do not believe it is). Most of us believe that the slow gradual worsening of chronic pain patients over time is due to downstream consequences of poorly controlled pain and other symptoms, wherein individuals then progressively get less active, sleep worse, are under more stress and unknowingly develop bad habits which worsen pain and other symptoms.
“In this regard any chronic illness is progressive if the disease is not well managed. If we leave rheumatoid arthritis or gout untreated for decades, these are progressive disorders, but if we treat them effectively when people initially develop symptoms, then they are not. Individuals with fibromyalgia whose symptoms are well managed will not typically worsen over time.”
Dr. Kevin Fleming, Mayo Clinic Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
In short, no. Fibromyalgia (FM) is felt to be a disorder of pain processing in the central nervous system, especially the brain. FM symptoms wax and wane, and can progressively worsen in some patients, but FM is not progressive in the medical sense that it is non-deforming, non-degenerative and nonfatal (unlike, for example, lupus or Parkinson’s disease).
“The longer one has had pain symptoms, the greater the pain has been, and the more non-pain physical symptoms also present, the more likely the symptoms will remain chronic. But symptoms can and do improve, permitting normal daily function, even if pain symptoms never fully resolve. Although the origin of FM remains unclear, fibromyalgia is likely in part a response to environmental factors in genetically predisposed individuals.”