Fibromyalgia and the Truth About this Debilitating Condition
Fibromyalgia is a very common condition and it’s estimated that around 1 in every 25 people may suffer from this unpleasant ailment. Statistically, it affects more women than men and the associated symptoms can vary greatly between sufferers.
It doesn’t discriminate and can affect people from all different walks of life no matter what their age or race. You can get Fibromyalgia if you don’t drink alcohol or smoke tobacco products and it can even strike the most fittest and healthy of people.
Fibromyalgia basically means:
- Fibro – refers to fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments.
- my – muscle
- algia – pain
What are the Causes of Fibromyalgia?
Unfortunately, the causes are still not known but it is assumed by researchers that physical and/or mental trauma, anxiety and sleep disorders may all play a part in causing this condition.
However, it is reassuring to know that extensive research is still ongoing so in the future there may be more vital information about the causes and treatment for fibromyalgia which would inevitably make it an easier thing to deal with.
Although symptoms vary greatly, one of the most common problems that sufferers will experience is widespread chronic pain throughout different areas of the body.
You may suffer from Hyperalgesia which is increased pain that’s felt in response to a normal painful condition such as osteo arthritis or a headache.
Another common symptom is Allodyma which is pain that’s felt in response to a condition or situation that is normally not painful, for example, it may hurt when you shake someone’s hand, use the TV remote control or hug a person.
Indeed, research into this complaint shows that a large percentage of people that have been officially diagnosed with fibromyalgia encounter increased sensitivity to minor taps and knocks or pressure making it possible to feel acute pain during the most unexpected of situations.
For example, this could be someone leaning against you when travelling on public transport or feeling intense pain when opening up a purse or wallet.
It’s thought that this unusual increase to sensitivity is caused by changes to the chemical pathways in your body as a result of the fibromyalgia being present. The pain itself is not caused by specific inflammation and will not cause any long term damage to the body.
Of course, this is of little comfort when you are trying to deal with the high levels of pain and discomfort on a daily basis or during a flare-up of the condition.
There are other common physical symptoms associated with this medical complaint which can make life really difficult. Painful headaches can manifest as crippling migraines and chronic pain in areas of the body including the back, neck, shoulders, feet and knees can make it impossible to function normally.
You may also get tingling and numbness to your fingers and toes which can feel very strange and make things like driving; cooking and getting dressed more of a challenge.
Even if you have never had mental health problems in the past, you may experience feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, depression and acute insomnia which can all be common symptoms of fibromyalgia.
This can make it near impossible to function normally as you may find it difficult to get out of bed each morning due to fatigue. As a result of tiredness and depression you may also notice that you cannot think straight or remember basic things such as appointments or the name of an actor in a film that you are watching.
This symptom is known by fibromyalgia UK sufferers as ‘fibro fog’ and is known to be one of the most frustrating things about the condition. You may find that you frequently feel sad and demotivated due to the feelings of negativity and anxiety and while these emotions are part of the illness, it may take you longer to come to terms with these mental health symptoms.
Generally speaking, doctors will usually try to rule out other unrelated conditions which have similar symptoms to fibromyalgia by sending you for a series of blood tests to try and determine whether you’re suffering from auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
If these blood test are all clear then you may be sent for an MRI scan to see if there are any serious problems with your spine, or your GP may simply send you for a standard X-Ray depending on where the pain is.
Due to the fact that symptoms vary so much it can be very tricky for a medical professional to make an accurate diagnosis so they must follow certain guidelines that have been set out.
In 2010 the American College of Rheumatology published a set of guidelines for doctors to use in order to make an accurate diagnosis. These guidelines indicate that if you have been suffering from pain for at least three months in certain regions of the body such as above and below the waist, the shoulders, chest, knees, hips, feet and hands then the chances are that you will be diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.
Of course, the doctor will also take other non physical symptoms into consideration such as lack of concentration; sleep disturbance, anxiety and increased sensitivity to pain and sound.
In a lot of cases, patients can feel like hypochondriacs due to the numerous different symptoms the experience and this may prevent them from telling the whole story to their GP which can result in a roadblock to the correct diagnosis.
Unfortunately, Fibromyalgia can cause feelings of embarrassment and this may exacerbate feelings of anxiety which in turn will discourage a person from seeking medical guidance. With this in mind, statistics show that as many as 1 in 10 people may have this condition but have not been diagnosed.
If you’re lucky enough to see a good doctor, he or she will refer you onto other professionals who can help you to manage your symptoms. For example, you can receive treatment for muscular pain from a physiotherapist who can also offer alternative treatments such as acupuncture and hydrotherapy.
This treatment is usually free but if you can afford it you could also seek other types of pain relief from a herbalist, chiropractor or osteopath.
As well as non-prescription pills such as paracetemol there are specific pain relieving drugs which can help to manage your pain. Special drugs devised to act on chemicals in the brain such as Amitriptyline can really help to improve your quality of life and allow you to get a better quality of sleep at night.
If sleep is a major problem then it will have a huge impact on your daily life so you may be sent to see an occupational therapist or sleep expert who can help you to manage day to day as best you can by applying techniques that they will teach you. These types of treatments can explain how to go to work, cook, clean and generally live without wearing yourself out.
Taking part in activities such as swimming, yoga or Pilates is an effective way to exercise and relieve the some of the mental and physical symptoms of Fibromyalgia.
Fortunately, the movements associated with these exercises are gentle enough to make a positive difference to your symptoms without requiring you to be overly strenuous or energetic. Of course, due to the nature of Fibromyalgia there will be days when you can’t face doing anything that requires even the smallest amount of effort and it’s important to listen to your body and rest when you need to.
It’s always sensible to eat a healthy diet but it’s particularly important if you have any type of medical condition and Fibromyalgia is no exception to this rule.
Due to the chronic fatigue you may be strongly tempted by sugary, unhealthy choices but it’s vital to try and eat well in order to prevent an exacerbation of your condition.
Unfortunately there is no magic food or supplement that will actively prevent a Fibromyalgia flare-up but by making a few small alterations to your daily food intake you could make a world of difference, and may even alleviate some of the symptoms.
If you are confused about what type of food that you should be eating then ask your doctor to refer you to a food specialist such as a dietician or alternatively look online for information on Fibromyalgia.
The key is to eat a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables because these are naturally high in fibre and antioxidants but are low in calories. If you are taking pain-killing medication to treat your symptoms then your body will require some antioxidants and these can be found in normal fruit and vegetables such as apples, strawberries, carrots, broccoli etc.
You can also gain plenty of vitamins by drinking pure fruit juice which you can either buy or make yourself at home with a juicer. Another easy way to sneak goodness into your fibromyalgia diet is to eat foods that contain fresh fruit or vegetables such as yogurts or home made soups.
It’s essential to include a good source of omega-3 oils in your diet and although you can take a fish oil supplement, this is not as good as eating coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.
You can also obtain omega-3 from certain types of nuts too but try and stick to the unsalted variety as these are far healthier. Although omega-3 oils won’t take away the pain, there has been enough research over the years to prove that they have a lubricating effect on joints and ligaments and also help to maintain the health of the heart.
Many health practitioners recommend a Mediterranean style diet for Fibromyalgia sufferers and this is easy to create at home by consuming plenty of lean protein such as fish, chicken, turkey or tofu along with lots of salad or vegetables.
Eating lean protein can help to control sugar levels and so this will be effective in treating the symptoms of tiredness or sugar cravings enabling you to feel healthier in general.
One of the best ways that you can change your diet for the better is to cut out caffeine and alcohol as these are both stimulants and can have a negative effect on the body.
You may feel that the best way to cure your tiredness is to drink endless cups of strong coffee, tea or cola but these drinks will only give you an initial burst of energy that will be followed by a slump.
Caffeine and alcohol will also stop you from getting a proper night’s sleep and this will aggravate any existing symptoms of fatigue. It is also thought that artificial sweetener is bad for Fibromyalgia sufferers because it is an unnatural chemical and these types of foods can worsen Fibromyalgia.
As well as eating lean protein, fruit and vegetables and trying to eat some omega oils, remember to replace bad carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and white pasta with wholemeal versions as these will slowly release energy throughout the day and stop you from feeling as tired.
Exchange sugary snacks like chocolate for a healthy cereal bar or a piece of fruit. You can still have the occasional sweet treat but try and opt for dark organic chocolate as it has health benefits whereas other snacks have no nutritional value whatsoever.
Prognosis of Fibromyalgia
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Fibromyalgia but research is ongoing to try and find better ways to both diagnose and treat this chronic pain disorder.
Since 2007, the US food and Drug Administration organisation has approved three different types of medication to treat Fibromyalgia symptoms and there are other medications currently in development.
In the UK, Arthritis Research UK has provided funding for the MUSICIAN (Managing Unexplained Symptoms) study by Manchester University which will investigate chronic and widespread pain and explore different approaches for treatment.
Fibromyalgia remains a challenging condition to the millions of sufferers worldwide but people can improve their quality of life by reducing symptoms by exploring a variety of options. Seeking advice from medical professionals, self managing through diet and exercise and making the necessary changes to your life mean that you can still enjoy a decent standard of living despite having this terrible condition.