It has come to my attention that I have been talking about fibromyalgia and haven’t actually explained what it is. In this post, I will explain what it is, how it is caused, symptoms, treatments etc.
Fibromyalgia, also known as Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS),is a condidtion which causes widespread pain. It is not progressive or life threatening, but it can greatly affect the person’s quality of life. It is said that 1 in 25 people suffer with FMS and is more common in women, between the ages of 25 and 60.
There are numerous symptoms to the condition, and each patient suffers with them differently. The most common is of course wide spread pain, which is made worse by activity. Other symptoms include:
- Fatigue, lack of energy
- Issues with sleep, insomnia, over sleeping, not getting enough restorative sleep
- Headaches and migraines
- Low moods, mood swings and depression
- Poor concentration, forgetfulness, also called “fibro fog” or “brain fog”
- More sensitive to: changes in temperature, sound, light and tender to touch
- Increased stress levels
When multiple symptoms are experienced, it can become a vicious cycle, for example, pain can create sleep disturbance, which means lack of restorative sleep, which can then mean fatigue and brain fog, which then contribute to sleep disturbance again.
FMS is often associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), previously known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), as the symptoms are very similar. It isn’t yet clear that the conditions are related, but often patients with CFS feel their condition stems from a viral infection, and may experience less pain.
The causes of FMS are difficult to pin point as it is different for each case. Pain we feel is often affected by mood, so increased stress is one cause. For example, a stressful period at work or at home. It can also be caused after an injury or illness e.g after having glandular fever. It can also be brought on by depression, or brought on by illness or unhappy events.
Fibromyalgia is where chemical changes occur in the body’s pain pathways and is not caused by inflammation. As a result, it is very difficult to detect in medical tests such as x-rays or blood tests. The diagnosis method is often quite lengthy, as doctors have to rule out any other conditions such as depression or arthritis.
There is not yet a cure for fibromyalgia, but there are numerous ways of easing the symptoms and managing the condition. There are physical therapies such as:
- Physiotherapy – can help improve posture and advise on relaxation techniques
- Hydrotherapy – gentle exercise in a heated pool that helps increase the range of different muscles
- Pain management – helps with developing coping methods
- Occupational therapy – helps manage everyday activities, suggests different approaches to tasks
There are also psychological methods to treating the condition. As Haines’ says in “Pain is Really Strange”, pain is like a bad habit, so understanding the emotional aspects of pain can really help relieve the symptoms. There are numerous psychological approaches, all largely covered under Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This form of treatment quite often separates out the issues to manageable chunks and deals with each individually. What is common, and also apparent from my experience, is that other medical professionals that help with pain will have some knowledge of the psychological approaches and feed it into their physical treatment.
There are also numerous drugs that can ease the symptoms. There is no “fibro pill” that will fix it all until you’re due to take the next one. Its a case of talking to a doctor about which symptoms are difficult to cope with, and they’ll prescribe according to that. For example, if a patient is particularly suffering with low moods and some pain, they may prescribe duloxetine, a drug which can tackle both. There are also numerous different painkillers that can be taken such as paracetamol.
I must admit, my personal experience with drug treatments is limited. I don’t feel like I need many drugs to ease my symptoms, as I want to give physical treatments a fair try before hand. This has also been advised to me by many medical professionals. Because I am quite young to have the condition, if I keep raising doses and adding more drugs to my treatment plan, I am at risk of not feeling any effects on numerous drugs, which will not help in the long term.
There are also things that FMS sufferers can do themselves to help manage the condition. Some are:
- Exercise – gentle exercises such as walking, cycling and swimming are often recommended. The intensity and frequency of these exercises can built up over time.
- Diet – there isn’t a particular diet that helps but a balanced healthy diet is recommended, with plenty of fruit and vegetables and plenty of water. For me, caffeine and sugar are to be avoided
- Sleep – trying to develop a sleep pattern and routine can ease sleep issues as well as the other symptoms.
- Rest – I have often been told to “listen to my body”. If I feel like I need to sit down or go for a nap, it’s better to do just that, or I may suffer later.
Arthritis Research UK. (2016). Fibromyalgia. [Booklet.]
Arthritis Research UK. 2017. What is hydrotherapy? | Arthritis Research UK. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/therapies/hydrotherapy/what-is-hydrotherapy.aspx. [Accessed 12 September 2017].
Drugs.com. 2017. Duloxetine: Indications, Side Effects, Warnings – Drugs.com. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.drugs.com/cdi/duloxetine.html. [Accessed 12 September 2017].
Haines, S., 2015. Pain is Really Strange. 1st ed. London: Singing Dragon.
WebMD. 2017. Fibromyalgia Pictures: Where Trigger Points Are, Symptoms, Pain, and More. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/ss/slideshow-fibromyalgia-overview. [Accessed 09 September 2017].