Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling like you have been hit by a truck? Not only does your body hurt all over, but you are also exhausted! Or perhaps you are familiar with the following symptoms:
- Chronic pain all over your body ( with pain and stiffness often worse in the morning)
- Sleep disorders
- Numbness in the limbs
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Impaired memory (sometimes referred to as “fibrofog”)
If you suffer from chronic fatigue and depression, you may be experiencing the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
There are many misconceptions about this condition. Unfortunately, some people still believe fibromyalgia is not a real disorder. Yet it is estimated that this chronic pain disorder affects 10 million Americans, the majority being women between the ages of 20 and 50. However, fibromyalgia also affects men, teenagers and children. In people who have fibromyalgia, the brain and spinal cord process pain signals differently; they react more strongly to touch and pressure, with a heightened sensitivity to pain.
A confirmed diagnosis of fibromyalgia is complicated because the disorder is not easily diagnosed as there is no laboratory test available. Your doctor must do a manual tender point examination and look for the presence of tenderness or pain in certain areas of your body. This exam is based on the classification criteria determined by the American College of Rheumatology.
To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia you must meet the following criteria:
- Widespread pain in all four quadrants of your body for a period of at least three months.
- Tenderness or pain in 11 of the 18 specified tender points when light pressure is applied.
The cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, but it is believed it may involve various components such as:
- Genetics: Scientists are still trying to isolate genetic markers for this disorder since it tends to run in families.
- Physical and Emotional Stressors: Trauma (i.e. a car accident) or stress has been linked to fibromyalgia.
- Other illnesses: Some ailments, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, and infections (either bacterial or viral) appear to trigger or aggravate the condition.
- Chemical imbalances: An abnormal increase of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (known as neurotransmitters) is being investigated. This is because people suffering from fibromyalgia have an amplified response—in the form of extreme pain—to stimuli that would not normally be painful for healthy individuals.
While FDA-approved medications such as pregabalin (Lyrica®), duloxetine (Cymbalta®), and milnacipran (Savella®), can be helpful to treat fibromyalgia, medication alone is often not sufficient for most patients. Generally, fibromyalgia sufferers also rely on alternative treatments to minimize symptoms and improve their general health.
Some alternative pain management treatments that are used include:
- Chiropractic care
- Massage therapy
- Relaxation and biofeedback techniques
- Gentle exercise programs, such as Tai chi
To help manage symptoms, sufferers must commit to modifying their lifestyles. This includes recognizing which factors aggravate or trigger symptoms, and avoiding them when possible. The following are common triggers for people suffering from fibromyalgia:
- Stress: It plays a big role in fibromyalgia flare-ups, so ensure you reduce stress levels by practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.
- Exercise: In certain instances, exertion can exacerbate some symptoms.
- Weather: Variations in weather can cause painful symptoms and trigger headaches, muscle aches, and depression.
- Smoking: It aggravates some symptoms since nicotine impairs muscle function.
- Poor posture: It often occurs because patients will walk differently and hold their bodies differently in order to reduce muscle and joint pain. Unfortunately, posture changes may cause more harm than good.
- Diet: Certain foods can trigger flare-ups. Good nutrition is a must for people with fibromyalgia, but you have to identify which foods trigger flare-ups and avoid them as much as possible.
Although several small studies have demonstrated that supplements containing omega-3, magnesium, ribose and the amino acid derivative SAMe have been used to treat fibromyalgia, research evidence is insufficient to draw conclusions on their effectiveness and more research is needed. While there are a lot of products offered to treat this disorder, research your options carefully, as some people may prey on your pain for their own profit. A consumer alert web page is available to help you make an informed decision.
While a lot of research has focused on fibromyalgia, it still remains a challenging condition. Developing an individualized plan with your health care provider can help alleviate some of your symptoms and significantly improve the quality of your life.