What is Fibromyalgia?
Living with fibromyalgia is tough. It invades all parts of your body and affects your quality of life. The major symptom is pain, but dealing with fatigue and other symptoms becomes a normal part of every day.
Often there can be those around you who simply don’t understand what you live with as your symptoms are not visible to them. Fibromyalgia is often referred to as one of the invisible illnesses for this reason. Pain and ongoing fatigue are not something people can understand unless they live with it every day themselves.
But do not let this get you down as you know how you feel. Continue seeking help and different solutions until you find what works for you. Seek support from close friends and family who understand and do not be hard on yourself.
Remember to not do too much, overextending yourself will only lead to a flare of your symptoms. And, most importantly, you can find natural fibromyalgia fatigue treatment, natural pain management and ways to manage your other fibromyalgia symptoms so you can lead a normal life.
Fibromyalgia And How It Affects Your Life
Fibromyalgia, much like chronic fatigue syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur together. It causes aches and pains throughout your body, difficulty sleeping, depression and fatigue that is not relieved with a good night’s sleep or rest. In fact, the pain symptoms are like arthritis without the swelling and redness in your joints though it does not cause damage to your joints. The pain is usually in the soft tissues, nerves and muscles of your body.
You can be sensitive to bright lights, to temperature changes, noise and pressure. Pain is the most common symptom. Pain can be widespread throughout your body or be muscular in the areas of the body you use most such as your shoulders and the back of your legs. The pain can be more like a deep muscle ache or it can burn and throb and is often worse early in the day.
Causes Of Fibromyalgia
It is not really known what causes fibromyalgia. There is a school of thought that increased activity of the central nervous system is partly to blame. And this relates to how the brain processes information about pain.
There are risk factors to contracting fibromyalgia such as rheumatoid arthritis, a traumatic injury, genetic predisposal, and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, although fibromyalgia itself is not an autoimmune condition.
It is thought that some people are predisposed genetically to fibromyalgia and it is triggered by an illness, accident, stress or and infection.
Accidents And Trauma
If you have been involved in an accident or gone through severe emotional trauma this is a risk factor that can trigger fibromyalgia. It also has links to post traumatic stress as patients often present with both and they share similar symptoms.
Genetically you can be predisposed to fibromyalgia so if someone in your family has the condition you have a higher risk of it affecting you. Research shows that up to 50% of people who develop some types of chronic pain is inheritable.
Effects Of Infections
Infections that cause pneumonia, the flu and bacterial infections like Salmonella, Epstein Barr and Shigella have been linked to possibly causing fibromyalgia or they can act as a trigger for your symptoms.
Stress can cause all sorts of negative effects on your body. There are links between long-term stress that causes hormonal changes that can be responsible for triggering fibromyalgia. Pain can be worse than usual and you may have more headaches and pain throughout your body when there is a drop in hormone levels.
Even short-term stress like work stress and stressful events in your life can put you at greater risk of developing fibromyalgia.
Main Symptoms Of Fibromyalgia
Because of its difficulty to diagnose, some have even questioned whether fibromyalgia really exists. But for those suffering chronic pain which is the main symptom it is very real.
17 Common Symptoms Of Fibromyalgia Include:
- Feeling fatigued in the morning
- Trouble with memory and thinking often called fibro fog or brain fog
- Fatigue that does not improve with sleep or rest
- Hands and feet feeling numb or have a constant tingling feeling
- Menstruation periods that are more painful
- Sensitivity to changes in the temperature
- Cramping or twitching muscles
- Sensitivity to bright lights
- Restless legs syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Trouble focusing and paying attention
- Fluctuating energy levels
“Fibro fog” or brain fog is when your brain feels foggy and is a common symptom in fibromyalgia sufferers. Signs include the inability to think straight, loss of memory, confusion, difficulty focusing, mixing up your words and difficulty staying alert. Brain fog can be more upsetting than living with the pain for some people.
Types Of Fibromyalgia Pain
Pain characterizes fibromyalgia. It invades the soft tissues and muscles in your body and varies in intensity from a mild, dull ache to a severity that may almost be unbearable. How much pain you are in will affect how you cope each day.
What would not normally be painful can be unbearable for people with fibromyalgia as your nervous system does not react normally to pain levels. Even the touch of bedsheets on your body can cause enormous pain symptoms. And the pain can be in more than one part of your body.
Pain In Your Legs
You may have pain in the soft tissues and muscles of your legs that can feel like you pulled a muscle or leave your legs feeling stiff. The pain can feel like it is:
- Deep within your legs
- Cause numbness and a tingling.
You may even have a creepy crawly feeling and always need to move your legs. An uncontrollable urge to move your legs can also be a of sign of restless legs syndrome which can be a part of fibromyalgia. Having restless legs syndrome can also affect your sleep. Your legs can feel tired as if weighed down and feel overly tired.
Pain In The Chest
Chest pain caused by fibromyalgia can feel like the pain associated with a heart attack. But this is not the case. When you have this type of chest pain it is in the cartilage that connects your breastbone and ribs. The pain can emanate up into your shoulders and into your arms.
Chest pain from fibromyalgia can feel like it is a burning pain or be a stabbing or sharp pain.
Pain In The Back
Back pain is a common place to feel the pain of fibromyalgia. Most people have back pain of some sort at some time in their lives. So, having pain in your lower back may not mean you have fibromyalgia. It could be many other things such as a pulled muscle. Your doctor will ask you about other symptoms to help them work out if it is fibromyalgia or not. You can also have fibromyalgia along with arthritis.
Similar To Autoimmune Conditions
Autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis attack the soft, healthy tissues in your body the same way they would normally attack bacteria and a virus. This is what makes fibromyalgia appear like an autoimmune disease. But fibromyalgia does not cause degenerative damage to your joints or inflammation and is therefore not considered to be an autoimmune disorder.
Fibromyalgia Risk Factors
In the past fibromyalgia was more common in women than men. But with new diagnostic techniques, it has become more common in men as they were often misdiagnosed. And, while it affects all age groups the most common age is between 35 and 50. It can also affect children who are commonly misdiagnosed with behavioral problems or growing pains.
Many people with fibromyalgia have other health problems that affect the immune system or their mental health. It is a complex condition and many things can trigger it. An injury, childbirth, a hysterectomy and even a viral illness. But there is ongoing research into fibromyalgia to learn more about this difficult, painful condition.
Getting A Diagnosis Of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose as it can mimic other illnesses. It can occur as part of another condition or alone. Also, fibromyalgia symptoms can come and go which makes it more difficult to get an accurate diagnosis.
There are no specific tests for fibromyalgia so it is not a simple process to diagnose. Experts link the condition to changes in the way your spine and brain process your pain signals. This means your GP needs to rely on the group of symptoms you present alone to make a diagnosis.
You need to experience widespread pain to all parts of your body for three months or more for your GP to consider fibromyalgia the cause.
In the past doctors also relied on tender points to specific parts of your body. For a fibromyalgia diagnosis there had to be 11 out of 18 points of tenderness.
Trigger points tested included the:
- Upper chest
- Back of the head
- Outside of the elbows
- Top of the shoulders.
But it was found this was not the most accurate way to make a diagnosis. Also, it was difficult to know how much pressure to use in these areas to elicit a pain response. One day you may have only five tender points and two days later 11 or more.
Now doctors use a NEW SET of diagnostic guidelines including:
- Persistent widespread pain for three months or more.
- Eliminate other conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
- Whether you have other symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue and waking up tired even though you had a good night’s sleep.
Eliminating Other Possible Conditions
Because fibromyalgia has a set of symptoms similar to other conditions, your doctor will eliminate these as part of the diagnosis. These can include:
- Mental Health Disorders – Mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression can often cause general aches and pain throughout your body.
- Rheumatic Conditions – General aches and pains can be a sign of conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
- Neurological Conditions – Often people with fibromyalgia can have numbness and tingling in their hands and feet which can be a sign of myasthenia gravis and multiple sclerosis.
Tests Your Doctor May Need
There are no specific tests to help diagnose fibromyalgia but you doctor will want to rule other conditions that present with the same symptoms. Tests can include:
- Testing the thyroid function.
- A complete blood count.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
- Levels of vitamin D.
You will also undergo a physical examination of your joints and muscles as well as a neurological examination to rule out any other conditions. You may also go through a sleep study if your doctor suspects sleep apnea as the cause.
How Fibromyalgia Affects Your Daily Life
Fibromyalgia will creep in and affect every part of your life. Let’s start with work. Maybe you work in an office and after sitting for a while you have trouble getting up out of the chair. You can find it harder and harder to concentrate on the task at hand and have trouble remembering any changes made in processes or procedures. The effects will affect your productivity and you may soon be taking too much time off work in an effort to deal with your symptoms.
In fibromyalgia as in chronic fatigue syndrome, no longer will sleep be your friend. Even after a good night’s sleep you will not feel rested and wake up after a night of unrefreshing sleep still feeling fatigued. It may even be that you have trouble dragging yourself out of bed. At first you may like spending more time in bed but it can soon make you feel lazy and worthless.
The pain of fibromyalgia will mess with your social life. It will be difficult to spend time with friends, play sport, enjoy your hobbies or have a weekend away. Some friends will accept this change in you so treasure them but others can fall by the wayside.
It can be difficult to talk about the daily struggles of coping with fibromyalgia. You may feel embarrassed. Put that aside to let people know what you struggle with everyday. Those who are true friends will stick by you and the others do not really matter.
You may become a stranger to your family even though you live in the same house. Your bedroom will become your new best friend as you spend so much time in bed sleeping the hours away even though it does not help you feel better.
And when the weather changes with the seasons it can make the symptoms worse at times. This will impact your family so help them understand what you are going through.
It will take all your energy to keep up-to-date with chores around the house. Doing the dishes and laundry will become a major challenge let alone vacuuming the floors. And it may even become impossible to lift your arms up to put your clothes on the line to dry. Showering and washing your hair may become an impossible task without help. You will need to find different ways to accomplish the things you once accomplished with ease.
Fibromyalgia Fatigue Treatment
As if the main symptom of never ending body wide pain is not enough to deal with, fatigue can also become a constant companion when you have fibromyalgia, making it important to know how to deal with it. Using your available energy well can also help prevent a flare of your other symptoms too.
The causes of Fibromyalgia fatigue can be due to insomnia, poor quality sleep and due to dealing with chronic pain. Constantly reacting to nerve pain signals in your body can be completely exhausting.
Learning what triggers your fatigue symptoms can help you manage and reduce it. Your fatigue can be caused by several things such as:
- Poor diet
- High stress levels
- Poor quality sleep and sleep patterns
- Your mood
It is useful to keep a record of your fatigue level each day. By recording your activities your food and sleep patterns you may see a pattern emerge. Remember to keep this daily log for a couple of weeks can show you clearly why you might be fatigued on some days and OK on others.
For example, you may have skipped exercise or your regular yoga class, or eaten poorly on a specific day causing you to feel fatigued. Perhaps you stayed up later than usual working on your computer and this may be affecting your sleep quality.
By keeping a simple daily log, you will be able to identify triggers and can set about eliminating them.
Modify Your Diet
While there is no specific recommended diet for fibromyalgia, it is always good when dealing with any type of chronic illness to follow a healthy and balanced diet. Emphasize fresh vegetables, fruits, lean protein and healthy fats like olive oil, avocados and seafood. Avoid all processed, canned and sugar laden foods.
Many people with fibromyalgia are sensitive to the following food types:
- Additives and chemicals such as artificial sweeteners.
Try eliminating those foods while keeping your log and check if your fatigue and other symptoms improve.
When fatigue is particularly bad you may need to practise pacing to ensure you stay within your available energy envelope. Constantly pushing yourself to complete tasks with diminished energy will only result in worse fatigue.
Learning to use pacing correctly will result in less overall fatigue and will reduce other symptoms too.
Stress Reduction / Self Care
When you constantly battle pain it can place a lot of stress on your system. Finding easy ways to work stress relief into your day can make a big difference to your fatigue levels.
There are several mind/body activities such as tai chi, chi gong, meditation and relaxing yoga which help you breathe deeply and gently stretch your body while reducing stress.
A study using a sample of 53 women with Fibromyalgia on an 8 week program of gentle yoga poses, breathing exercises and meditation found significant improvements in fatigue, pain and mood. These improvements came from practising yoga between 5 and 7 days a week for as little as 20 minutes a session up to 40 minutes.
It seems to be a simple and relatively quick allotment of time each day to feel the benefits in symptom relief and improved quality of life.
Carrying out gentle aerobic exercise helps with the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. Whether you choose walking, cycling or swimming, they can all help with fibromyalgia fatigue symptoms. However, it is important to stay within your current level of fitness and not push too hard.
A study undertaken of over 400 women with fibromyalgia showed that gentle physical activity and less time spent immobile resulted in less fatigue and a reduction in overall symptoms in the participants.
At first you may find it painful to do much exercise, begin slowly with a few laps of the pool or a gentle walk. Carrying out this gentle exercise slowly will help your body become used to it and build up your strength and stamina over time.
Putting It All Together
So, if you have suffered unexplained pain throughout your body for three months or more, see you doctor for a diagnosis to help get your pain and life back under control. Using some of the pointers in this post can help with fibromyalgia fatigue treatment and overall symptom relief allowing you to start living a more normal life again.
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