Living in constant pain is exhausting, stressful and extremely difficult. Fibromyalgia has no known cause, cannot be seen through scans or in your blood, yet it causes widespread pain, tiredness and a range of other unpleasant symptoms. Latest research shows it’s also fairly common, mostly in women. Despite how little we know about the origins of this condition, many people are learning to live with Fibromyalgia, and research is improving all the time. This guide will help if you have Fibromyalgia, think you might have it, or are caring for someone who does.
Fibromyalgia (FMS) is a pain disorder. This means it isn’t technically rheumatic – although it can cause pain in joints and muscles like types of arthritis. The main symptoms are body-wide pain and extreme fatigue which affects your energy levels, sleep and memory. Many people with this disorder liken it to having a bad case of the flu, but more frequently. It mainly affects those aged 30-55 and is 7 times more likely to affect women, although younger people can also be affected.
The main symptoms of Fibromyalgia are:
Alongside the main symptoms, many people with Fibromyalgia complain of additional common symptoms that seem to be related to the condition. Things to look out for include:
With so many reported symptoms, it can be very difficult to identify a cause, and so far, research hasn’t come up with any conclusive answers. However, there are a lot of credible causes to give your attention to.
Firstly, there is likely a genetic component to the disorder. Researchers found that people with certain genes who undergo a trigger event (emotional stress or a traumatic physical event) promote the pain signals in their central nervous system to operate too highly and cause the widespread pain and consequent fatigue.
Secondly, levels of certain hormones in your blood might make you susceptible. Those with low serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine are lacking the ability to control their mood, sleep and stress response as well as those with normal levels. They also play a part in processing pain signals throughout the body which is a key factor of Fibromyalgia.
Finally, sleep problems in themselves are being investigated as a causal factor. Rather than simply being a symptom, poor sleep is theorised to lead to Fibromyalgia for some people. The extensive importance of sleep continues to increase as we research it more, and a lack of good quality sleep over time can cause a lot of damage both physically and mentally.
One of the biggest problems with Fibromyalgia is how hard it is to diagnose. Making sure you see a Specialist who has experience with FMS is key. Usually you’ll undergo several steps:
If there is no other likely cause for your pain, you will receive a positive diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. This can be a long and frustrating process, but preparing yourself with information, asking questions and making sure you get help from the right people will help a diagnosis come more smoothly.
As with most auto-immune disorders, there is still no cure for Fibromyalgia. But research remains ongoing, and treatment options are improving all the time. As we learn more about FMS, we move closer to improving the lives of all with the disorder. Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will talk to you about what can be done to manage and ease your symptoms.
Whilst there are no specific medications solely for Fibromyalgia, there are medications that have been approved for use by FMS patients. These include medicines that interfere with the pain signals in your brain in terms of how much pain you can feel. Anti-inflammatories have also produced some good outcomes, whilst sleeping tablets and antidepressants can help with additional symptoms and promote a healthier routine.
Lots of people with Fibromyalgia have benefitted from talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices such as meditation and stretching, and other relaxation techniques such as massage therapies.
Performing moderate, low-impact exercise regularly has been shown to improve symptoms. Regular exercise can help you become healthier overall, regulate your sleeping patterns and quality and reduce stress.
Being an active patient helps you gain some semblance of control over your life. Living with Fibromyalgia can be extremely tough, so having a support network of physicians, therapists, friends and family is vital. Open discussions about how you are feeling and what you need is key to getting through the bad days.
Remember that flare-ups will happen. It might be worth keeping a diary to try to identify patterns in your bad days to find some of the triggers which you can avoid in the future.
Try to practice good sleep hygiene. This can involve going to bed at a regular time, turning off screens a while before bedtime, using sleep medication when necessary and making conditions in your bedroom as ideal as possible.
Your diet and lifestyle have a big impact on your condition. Try to cut down or quit smoking, drink in moderation and eat healthily; lots of fresh fruit and vegetables with limited fat, salt and sugar.
Fibromyalgia is a difficult diagnosis to receive and even more so to live with. Remember that you are not alone. This is a common condition that many people around the world live with every day, and so can you. By getting help from your doctor, surrounding yourself with friends and family who know what is going on, and making lifestyle changes to become healthier, you can improve your quality of life.