What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a debilitating condition that affects around three million people in the United Kingdom.
Difficult to diagnose, the symptoms of Fibromyalgia vary from person-to-person and impacts each respective sufferer in different ways. The severity of Fibromyalgia can deviate from being something one can live with to seriously life restricting.
Although the majority of sufferers with Fibromyalgia are female, it is a condition that can affect men, as well as children of both sexes.
The onset of Fibromyalgia has no specific known cause, but initial symptoms can often coincide with incidental triggers that are commonly stress related, or they may start to appear after another illness.
Fibromyalgia has a wide range of symptoms and not everyone will suffer from them all at the same time, or indeed, may never experience some of them at all. Rather than treat the condition in its entirety, treatments and therapies tend to concentrate on alleviating each separate symptom with the expectation of increasing the comfort of the individual.
Fibromyalgia is a long term illness for which there is currently no complete cure, but in most cases, many sufferers of Fibromyalgia can often experience periods of well-being with only intermittent flare ups of the disorder.
While it may still not be known for sure what causes Fibromyalgia, there are some common causes that figure in the lives of many, although not all, of the sufferers.
These frequently occurring factors are therefore considered to be possible triggers of Fibromyalgia, even though there is still uncertainty around this issue. It is also possible, though still unproven, that the neurological systems of Fibromyalgia sufferers transmit pain signals differently to those of a non-sufferer and some, with the disorder, may also have a chemical imbalance in their brain hormone levels.
Bereavement And Break Ups
The onset of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia are often linked to a person being in a heightened emotional state for a lengthy period of time.
This can occur after the bereavement of a family member, or close friend, or after any other uncontrollable emotive situation like the failure of a relationship.
There are many circumstances in life other than death or a break up that can put a strain on even the strongest of personalities and, even though that person may appear to be coping at the time, Fibromyalgia can appear as an unexpected and unwanted after effect of a distressing event.
While for most women childbirth is a happy event, for others, it can have a lasting physical effect. It is not uncommon for Fibromyalgia symptoms to materialize after a woman has had a hard and strenuous labour.
Having a new baby in the home is also a very stressful time, so the combination of physical and emotional stress may be a possible trigger to the onset of Fibromyalgia.
Illness And injury
It has been reported by Arthritis Research UK that many sufferers of Fibromyalgia have revealed that symptoms of the disorder made their first appearance after they had a virus or bacterial infection, or had been involved in an accident of some kind. Why this should be is a matter still under investigation, but may possibly be related to lack of sleep due to pain from the injury or sickness.
Deep Sleep Deprivation
One of the most common factors discovered by research into Fibromyalgia is that the majority of those inflicted with the disorder suffer from deep sleep deprivation.
The reasons for not getting enough restorative sleep can be caused by many different things including pain, anxiety and emotional upset. People with depression are also prone to developing Fibromyalgia, because the illness can cause prolonged periods of disturbed sleep patterns.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that has a range of multiple symptoms, although not all are experienced by everyone who has the disorder.
Symptoms are not necessarily displayed consistently, but can come and go as the sufferer enters into a period of relative stability, or has a flare up.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes almost continuous chronic pain throughout the body.
Fibromyalgia pain doesn’t originate from any specific injury in the place where it’s felt, but rather from the way a person’s neurological system relays pain signals to their brain and consequently how their brain interprets them.
Pain location may differ for each individual. It can be general and felt all over the body, or can be centred on joints, legs, arms, shoulders and back. While Fibromyalgia creates pain, it doesn’t cause damage to bones or soft tissue, or cause any ongoing deterioration of the body.
Together with chronic pain, constant tiredness is one of the most common symptoms of Fibromyalgia.
Many people with the disorder mention experiencing an extreme level of exhaustion that is not alleviated by either resting or sleeping. In this respect, Fibromyalgia is comparable to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome when exertion, either mental or physical, rather than being an aid to improved sleep, can have the opposite effect and be detrimental to the state of a person’s well being. Whether the lack of deep sleep causes the chronic pain, or vice versa, remains one of the conundrums of Fibromyalgia.
Brain Or Fibro Fog
Apart from the physical effects of pain and fatigue, one of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia that can affect a sufferer’s daily life most is what is known as brain, or fibro fog.
Fibro fog is the term given to the fuzzy-headed feeling experienced by someone with Fibromyalgia.
During a bout of fibro fog, mental functions can be seriously reduced and concentrating can be difficult which can make work and even simple everyday home tasks a strain to complete. When hit by severe fibro fog, a Fibromyalgia sufferer may also experience problems holding a conversation, be forgetful and have trouble remaining alert.
While not particularly a symptom of Fibromyalgia itself, many people who are afflicted with the disorder also suffer problems with their digestive system.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is another uncomfortable aspect of having Fibromyalgia that can leave a person feeling bloated, as well as with intermittent bouts of either constipation or diarrhoea. They may also have lower abdominal pain, stomach cramping and an excessive build up of gas. The same as with Fibromyalgia, the exact cause of IBS is still unknown, but is considered to be partly stress related.
Another ailment that can decrease a person’s chance of obtaining a restorative night’s sleep when they have Fibromyalgia is RLS or Restless Leg Syndrome which is a frequently diagnosed disorder of the nervous system. The involuntary leg spasms of RLS, or Willis-Ekbom disease as it is also known, can occur at any time, but is more common late in the day or during the night time. Tingling in the legs or feet may be experienced too, along with the desire to keep moving continually.
Anxiety And Depression
Going long spells without a good night’s sleep and feeling chronic pain on a regular basis can have a significantly detrimental effect on a person’s mental health.
It’s not uncommon for those enduring Fibromyalgia to feel anxious or depressed, especially when the disorder affects their earning potential and influences other aspects of their daily life. It is also now known that having any form of depressive illness can increase a person’s likelihood of suffering from Fibromyalgia.
Other Symptoms Of Fibromyalgia
While pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, brain fog and IBS are the main and probably the most debilitating symptoms of Fibromyalgia, there are also many minor symptoms that can affect someone with the disorder. Headaches, general stiffness in the body, and being extra sensitive to pain being three of them.
Are There Any Treatments For Fibromyalgia?
There is no overall cure for Fibromyalgia. Treatment at present revolves around the alleviation of each individual symptom combined with pain management, physiotherapy, and counselling.
Pain management can often be achieved, under medical guidance, with the use of painkillers.
When this is found not to be efficient in the long term, it is often helpful for a Fibromyalgia sufferer to have a consultation with a pain specialist who can recommend a course of action to take. This may involve attending a pain clinic, or beginning a controlled exercise routine.
Doctors may recommend the use of antidepressant medication to break the anxiety-depressive-no sleep cycle that affects so many Fibromyalgia sufferers.
If a good sleep cycle can be achieved, it’s often found that some of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia, while they won’t disappear completely, will be diminished.
For those who prefer to take a holistic approach to pain management, meditation and relaxation techniques have also been shown to produce relatively good results in reducing anxiety levels and improving sleep patterns.
Getting enough exercise is important to everyone’s physical and mental health, but it can be difficult to feel motivated when in the throes of a Fibromyalgia flare up. Exercising regularly, whether it’s at an aerobic class, a session at the gym, a brisk walk in the park or doing laps in the local swimming baths, can make a big difference to the symptoms of Fibromyalgia for two reasons (1) exercise helps prevent muscle and skeletal degeneration which can occur from long periods of inactivity. (2) Exercise produces feel-good pheromones that act as natural antidepressants and can help induce a better, deeper night’s sleep, as well as decreasing anxiety levels.
While diet may not play a major part in resolving the problems caused by some of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia, it will help to control those caused by IBS.
Avoiding processed foods and restricting the intake of gas-inducing fruits and vegetables, as well as carbonated refreshments and artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, can make a big difference.
Dietary supplements that contain probiotics, like yoghurt, are also good for aiding the recuperation of the body’s natural intestinal bacteria.
Living With Fibromyalgia
Learning to live with Fibromyalgia is an important factor of conquering at least some of the discomfort, life disruptions and inconvenience caused by the disorder.
As there is no treatment that will eradicate the condition, or all of its symptoms one hundred percent, daily life can, on occasion, become a frustrating affair for someone with Fibromyalgia.
Being informed about methods of self-help and the management of their symptoms, although not a cure by any means, can be very beneficial in the long term.
It’s often advantageous for a sufferer of Fibromyalgia to take an in-depth look at their lifestyle and when, or where possible, make relevant changes that can help improve their way of living with the disorder.
These changes can be as minimal as introducing some gentle exercise into a daily regime, reassessing dietary habits or learning to stop what they’re doing and relax when their body demands it.
Improving Sleep Quality
Lack of decent sleep can trigger many of the various symptoms of Fibromyalgia, creating a vicious cycle of anxiety and insomnia that is difficult to break.
Using self-help methods to improve sleep quality can make a huge difference to the life of someone who suffers from the disorder.
There are many ways to try and improve sleep quality, although not all will work for everyone who has Fibromyalgia. Some may and some may not, so it’s a case of trial and error to find out which is helpful to each individual person.
Disconnecting completely from all forms of technology at least half an hour before going to bed is known to have a favourable effect towards promoting a good night’s rest.
Try to avoid eating large meals, or snacking on carbohydrates, or sugary foods, late at night.
Avoid drinking both hot and cold drinks that have a high caffeine content in the evenings, or opt for caffeine-free instead.
Replace a worn mattress with an orthopaedic mattress for extra muscular support, or for a more economic option, try a mattress topper that is designed to help relieve body tension.
While it may seem that relaxing is an easy thing to do, that is not always the case if someone has a high level of anxiety. Understanding the need for relaxation, and how to achieve an improved state of it can help toward reducing the intensity of stress and anxiety attacks, as well as encouraging deeper sleep.
Relaxing doesn’t always come easily to everyone and it is something that needs to be practised regularly to obtain good results.
There are many different ways of relaxing that can be as varied as spending time in a quiet location or being close to nature to watching the bubbles in a lava lamp rise and fall. Learning new techniques like mindfulness or concentrative meditation, trying some simple yoga exercises or even just laying back in a supportive reclining chair can all help to encourage a more relaxed state of mind.
Massage, whether it’s done at home with a mini massager or carried out by a professional masseur, can help to relieve painful muscle tension, decrease anxiety levels and promote relaxation. Personal pampering in the form of a manicure, pedicure, foot spa or a warm bath with herbal salts can all help to alleviate accumulated tension, drain stress from the body and aid a Fibromyalgia sufferer to achieve a better state of relaxation.
Increase Physical Activity
It is important for sufferers of Fibromyalgia to try and maintain a decent level of physical activity in their daily routine. Too much inactivity can cause long term muscle problems and make the disorder’s painful symptoms worse. Gentle daily exercise has been proven to help relieve anxiety as well as improving moods, sleep and brain function.
If muscle stiffness is a problem, it can be almost impossible to find the necessary motivation to exercise, even though it has proven benefits.
Many Fibromyalgia sufferers can feel unsteady on their feet, particularly when experiencing a flare-up of the condition, or if they are in pain.
There are a great many mobility aids, like walking sticks or walking frames, that can be used to inspire confidence when outdoors and that will also help in preventing unwanted falls. Many of the walking sticks available today are so attractive, they could be classed as a fashion accessory rather than a mobility aid.
No-one suffering with Fibromyalgia in the UK today needs to feel they are suffering alone. There is a fantastic network of not-for-profit organisations that provide both information and support for those unfortunate to have the disorder.
UK Fibromyalgia – is a charitable organisation who have a website and social media feeds on Twitter, as well as Facebook. They have a range of books and brochures on Fibromyalgia that are in print and also downloadable, plus many other informative resources on the disorder. Through UK Fibromyalgia, it is possible to join one or more of several moderated discussion groups and make contact with other sufferers, too.
Fibromyalgia Action UK – is a British registered charity run by a group of volunteers, the majority of whom are sufferers of Fibromyalgia themselves. The aim of Fibromyalgia Action UK is to provide not just a source of information, but a better understanding of the disorder to both sufferers and medical staff.
Fibromyalgia Action UK offers a wide range of support via various different modes. They run a national Fibromyalgia helpline, a twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week online support forum and raise awareness of the condition by lobbying parliament and making informative press or media releases.
Versus Arthritis – it is possible that after being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, someone with the disorder may have visits to a rheumatologist in order to assess their symptoms, and help with pain control.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can help to diminish anxiety or discussing the effects of symptoms in a one-to-one counselling session with a therapist can also help. CBT or therapy can be organised through a general practitioner working for the NHS.
Medical terminology can sometimes be difficult to understand. Below are some key terms that you’ll find in this article to try and help you have a better understanding of the condition.
Bereavement – suffering the loss of a loved one
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – a disorder of the nervous system that causes extreme tiredness
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) – a one-to-one talking session with a therapist
Depression / depressed / depressive – a medical condition that involves low moods and emotional distress
Diagnose / diagnosed
Fibro fog – a term used to describe lack of mental awareness and concentration
Flare up – a term used to describe the onset of Fibromyalgia symptoms
Insomnia – a disturbance to a person’s normal sleep patterns
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – a disorder of the digestive system that causes abdominal cramping and intermittent bouts of diarrhoea and constipation
Muscular – relating to muscles in the body
Neurological – relating to the body’s nervous system and brain functions
Orthopaedic – relating to the body’s musculoskeletal structure
Pheromones – a feel good hormone produced in the body after exercise
Sorbitol – an artificial sweetener that if taken in excess can cause diarrhoea