Fibromyalgia Flares: Triggers, Symptoms & Coping

New Line of Research

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Fibromyalgia, for most of us, isn't the same every day. Far from it, in fact. Instead, we have flares (when symptoms are at their worst) and remissions (when symptoms are milder and/or fewer in number.)

Even though flares are a major component of fibromyalgia, researchers know very little about them. This is one area where our personal knowledge is greater.

Research published in January 2015 sought to start an investigation into our flares.

The researchers asked 44 people with fibromyalgia seven open-ended questions about their flares, including:

  • Flare triggers,
  • How flares differ from daily symptoms,
  • What helps alleviate them,
  • How they cope with them.

After analyzing the responses, researchers identified several trends, including:

  • Flares are common and distinct from typical symptoms;
  • Stress, overdoing it, poor sleep, and weather changes were commonly considered triggers;
  • Flare symptoms include flu-like body aches and exhaustion, pain, fatigue, and other symptoms;
  • People use a variety of medical treatments to alleviate them;
  • Many people use rest, activity avoidance, and stress avoidance to get through flares.

The researchers say we need more studies to quantitatively characterize fibromyalgia flares and figure out what causes them.

Living with Flares

I'm glad to see that this line of research has been started and I hope it gets a lot more attention going forward.

It's a critical topic for many of us.

I've heard story after story from my fellow fibromites about how they can cope with the typical day-to-day symptoms, but the flares are a different story. That's how it was for me back when I had a traditional job – I'd manage to get through most weeks, even though it was tough, but when a flare hit I'd be on the couch or in bed for days.

Even minimal functionality was impossible at times. I'd miss anywhere from one day of work to an entire week. All too often, I'd go to work and have to leave part way through the day.

Flares can throw your household into disarray as well. It's common to hear someone talk about laying on the couch in a cluttered room, hating the mess but being unable to do anything about it. My husband and kids get stuck with a lot of extra work when I'm down with a flare, and some things simply go undone. It helps to be prepared for a flare, which you can learn more about here:

It's not just pain and fatigue for most of us, either. Cognitive function (fibro fog) can be severe during a flare. For some, that makes it impossible to go to work. For others, it may mean they're too disoriented to drive safely and have trouble even putting a sentence together. Multi-tasking? Short-term memory? Forget it. (No pun intended!)

Understanding cognitive dysfunction can make it easier to deal with. These articles can help:

For women, flares may be tied to the menstrual cycle (mine were, until I had an endometrial ablation.) They may also be random and unpredictable, triggered by unexpected stress or a passing illness.

Most of us know that we'll have a flare after major events, such as the holidays, a vacation, or anything that takes a lot of our energy.

Flares are just something we have to deal with, but with time and effort, you may be able to identify your triggers, avoid or minimize flares, and alleviate the symptoms when you're in the middle of one. It takes some time, but until medical science learns more about our flares and how to treat them, it's about all we can do.


Vincent A, Whipple MO, Rhudy LM. Pain medicine. 2015 Jan 13. [Epub ahead of print.] Fibromyalgia flares: a qualitative analysis.

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