Fact vs. Fiction: Caring for someone with fibromyalgia

Caring for someone with fibromyalgia (FM) may lend itself to confusion, especially if the caregiver is not familiar with the condition. They may be familiar with the symptoms, all right; they include chronic pain, fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, memory and concentration issues, and difficulty performing daily activities. However, even if they observe these signs in a loved one, they may not connect the dots. After all, few lay people besides Cliff Clavin types would immediately conclude that it is a case of fibromyalgia. The word itself may sound uncommon, but the condition is pretty common and that is a fact – or rather, one of many.

Caring for someone with fibromyalgia: fact vs. fiction



·         FM isn’t real

The National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association, the American College of Rheumatology, the Food and Drug Administration, the Social Security Administration and all major insurers have all recognized fibromyalgia as a medical condition.

·         FM is caused by depression

Though people with fibromyalgia may experience depression, the latter does not cause the former.

·         FM is new and rare

The term fibromyalgia was coined in 1976, but the condition may have been known as ‘muscular rheumatism’ as early as the 1800s.

·         FM affects women and the elderly exclusively

Fibromyalgia is more common in women and the risk increases with age, but it can affect people of all ages and genders.

·         FM is lethal

Fibromyalgia is not a cause of death but it can significantly and negatively affect life.

·         FM makes a good quality of life impossible

People who have fibromyalgia can lead rewarding life with the proper treatment and the support of friends and family.


What do we gather from all of the above? If a loved one of yours complains of the symptoms of FM, do not dismiss them as the proverbial ‘boy who cried wolf,’ or say to them something along the lines of “you’re just depressed; what you need to do is cheer up” (which you should not even say to a person with actual depression). You may not be thrilled about the perspective of caring for someone with fibromyalgia, but you need to come through and become their advocate. The first step toward getting the facts about FM straight is to talk to a doctor.

Here are a few questions you can ask a healthcare provider:

·         How experienced and successful have you been in treating fibromyalgia and pain in general?

·         How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

·         How often do you treat patients with fibromyalgia?

·         Which activities can relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Some questions may be more difficult to get an answer for than others. For example, there are no blood tests or x-rays that can be used to make a diagnosis. Additionally, your primary doctor may not have experience treating patients with fibromyalgia (in which case you can ask him or her to refer you to a specialist). Nevertheless, FM can be both diagnosed and treated.

The following activities/techniques you may want to encourage in your loved one when you’re caring for someone with fibromyalgia.

·         Exercise

Physical activity is essential to a healthy life, but since exercise may be difficult for people with FM, it is your duty as a caregiver to encourage them to start small and work their way up from there. A physical therapist may be helpful as well.

·         Sleep

Getting enough rest at night, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day. The caregiver may have to ensure the patient does not take naps during the day, which may keep them from sleeping at least 8 consecutive hours at night.

·         Diet

Plenty of fruits, vegetables and proteins, as well as plenty of fluids. Your job as a caregiver is to watch that the patient does not skip meals and steers clear from sugary snacks.

·         Stress management

Help your loved one identify and control the things that cause them stress. Meditation, massages, tai chi, acupuncture, and yoga may help to relieve stress.

·         Medication

If the doctor prescribes any drugs for your loved one, make sure they are taken as directed.


More than 6 million people in the United States suffer from fibromyalgia. That means neither your loved one is alone dealing with FM, nor are you alone caring for someone with fibromyalgia. Both of you can seek extra help in the form of support groups.

 Related: Fribromyalgia Relief: How to handle Fibromyalgia as a Parent