Top 10 Things NOT to Say to a Fibromyalgia Patient

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

Fibromyalgia awareness has come a long way. But that doesn’t stop people from making insensitive comments. There’s still a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about this painful illness. Following are 10 examples of things not to say to a fibromyalgia patient.

Mature woman with neck pain rubbing the back of her neck.

We all get more aches and pains as we get older

The pain of fibromyalgia is much more severe than the normal aches and pains associated with aging. Little things (like a handshake or a hug) that shouldn't hurt at all can be excruciatingly painful. Plus, most people develop fibromyalgia long before they should be experiencing age-related aches and pains.

Tired man rubbing his eyes sitting at the computer.

I think I have that, too — I'm always tired

The fatigue of fibromyalgia is so much more than just being tired. It is an all-encompassing exhaustion. You are drained of energy — like someone pulled your plug, cutting off your source of power. It’s kind of like taking the batteries out of the Energizer bunny.

Young people waiting for job interview.

Maybe you need a job to take your mind off the pain

While getting involved in a project can help to distract your mind from the pain for short periods of time, if you have a more severe case, it doesn't work well enough to allow you to consistently work a 40-hour week. And it doesn't help dispel the extreme fatigue that usually accompanies fibromyalgia.

Couple supporting each other talking to doctor taking notes.

My doctor says fibromyalgia isn't a real disease

First of all, this doctor obviously hasn't kept up with the latest research, which clearly demonstrates that fibromyalgia is a very real physical disease. Also, to date the FDA has approved three medications to treat fibromyalgia, and they generally don't approve medications for imaginary illnesses.

Woman sleeping in bed.

If you got more sleep, you'd feel better

While getting more and better-quality sleep would undoubtedly help, one of the major problems with fibromyalgia is that something prevents the body from going into the deepest stage of sleep, when it naturally restores and replenishes itself. Even if you manage to stay asleep for several hours, you're still most likely not going to awaken feeling refreshed.

Young woman doing research online.

I read about this new product that cures fibromyalgia

This can be one of the toughest comments to deal with because it is usually said by well-meaning friends or relatives who genuinely want you to feel better. Although to date there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are natural options that may indeed help to improve one or more symptoms. However, trying every product suggested would be extremely expensive. Read “Let the Buyer Beware” for tips to help you evaluate product claims.

Worried young man with hand on forehead.

At least it's not fatal

Of course, you're glad it's not fatal. But Instead of being comforting, being reminded that it's not fatal can feel more like being sentenced to a lifetime of pain. It's also much more difficult to raise research funding and garner support for someone living with a chronic but non-fatal disease. Understandably, people tend to be more interested in preventing death than in improving the quality of life.

Women and men stretching in exercise class.

You just need to exercise more

Although exercise is an important component of any comprehensive fibromyalgia treatment plan, it's only one part, and it must be approached slowly and carefully to avoid triggering a flare. Read “Fibromyalgia and Exercise” for more information on how to safely incorporate exercise into your fibromyalgia treatment plan.

Woman looking in mirror.

But you don't look sick

When it comes to outward appearance, a person with fibromyalgia can't win for losing. If you let yourself go and show how you actually feel, people become uncomfortable and don't want to be around you. On the other hand, if you manage to fix yourself up and put on a brave face, people don't believe you're sick because you look so “normal.”

Woman consoling her friend and offering support.

It's all in your head

Insinuating that fibromyalgia is merely a psychological problem may be one of the most hurtful things that can be said. However, instead of being defensive and launching into an explanation of how fibromyalgia is a very real physical illness, try simply saying: “You're right, it is in my head. Research shows that inflammation and abnormal blood flow in my brain affects how it processes pain signals.” Enough said.

Karen Lee Richards
Meet Our Writer
Karen Lee Richards

Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She writes for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.