Fibromyalgia, sometimes known as Fibromyalgia Syndrome, is a condition that causes a person to feel pain all over the body. It tends to affect adults between 30 and 50 but is not found exclusively in that age range.
It's the second most common rheumatic disorder, not a disease, behind osteoarthritis and is considered a life-long central nervous system disorder.
What does fibromyalgia pain feel like?
There are so many ways that fibromyalgia manifests. It seems to be different for everyone. Some report that the symptoms feel like a dull ache, all the time. Others say that it's a constant pain in the ribs, which doesn't go away. In some instances, it can result in a person feeling really exhausted all of the time and without energy.
How does fibromyalgia start?
Not much is known about why and how fibromyalgia happens. It's not viral so you can't catch it from someone else. At this point, the cause is unknown but it's said to impact up to 1 in 20 people (1).
It's believed that the pain originates from the brain and the spinal cord. The pain is associated with the way the brain processes pain.
Where does fibromyalgia originate?
Fibromyalgia has only just recently been recognised as an identified health issue. In some medical studies, they have determined from brain scans that fibromyalgia is an abnormality with the blood flow to the brain (2).
Some of the most common symptoms reported by people suffering from this condition are:
• Muscle ache
• Chronic fatigue syndrome
• Problems with memory and concentration
Your lifestyle can also cause and affect the severity of your symptoms. If you're going through a stressful period, not sleeping well, changed your exercise habits or even if the weather changes, they can all have an impact on the pain (3). Some of the more specific symptoms are:
1. All over pain
A typical symptom reported by sufferers is all over pain. In addition to this, there can also be more severe pain in a localized area like the neck or back. The pain can range from a dull ache to a burning sensation. Sometimes it's like a sharp stabbing pain. If you have neck pain, it can lead to headaches and in some cases, migraines and nausea too.
2. Pain sensitivity
With fibromyalgia, you might find that you're much more sensitive to pain. Even a light touch might be unbearable. When you injure yourself, you might find that the pain will last much longer than usual. Exposure to stimulating events like bright lights, loud music or even certain foods can trigger the pain to flare.
Fatigue manifests differently for different people. You can sometimes feel just more tired than usual. In other cases, you can feel extreme exhaustion where you can only lie in bed and won't have the energy to do much else.
4. Disrupted sleep
The symptoms might affect your sleep too. You might not get the right amount of hours you need and continue to wake up tired or even struggle with insomnia. You can sometimes wake up feeling really stiff. This happens when you are in one position for a long time.
5. Mental functions
You might find it hard to concentrate or in some cases, you might find it hard to remember things when you're dealing with fibromyalgia. In extreme cases, your speech might be slow. It feels something like having a brain fog.
6. Other symptoms
Other symptoms you might experience include IBS (4). In women, some might have very painful periods. You might find that you have prickling or tingly sensation or even numbness. What's more, people with fibromyalgia have problems regulating their temperature so you might feel extremely hot or cold. With this condition, the combination of listlessness, constant discomfort and other symptoms can lead to depression. It's always advisable to consult a Doctor to help you through the treatment and diagnosis of conditions like fibromyalgia.
As the symptoms are so similar to so many different illnesses, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. For years, doctors have ignored this condition and some people say that it's even fake. For the people who have to struggle to cope with the pain daily, there's really nothing fake about it.
Today, it's recognised as a real illness and condition. There currently is no cure but a lot of people with mild fibromyalgia can live normal lives. As the severity of the condition can change, it can make this a complication in getting a proper diagnosis. If you think you have fibromyalgia, make sure to visit your GP. There are various treatments that can alleviate the symptoms.
As there are no known causes for this condition there's no absolute cure, but there are many ways to treat the symptoms of fibromyalgia naturally or at home:
1. Herbal, natural and non-drug remedies
For those who are averse to taking drugs and pain killers, there are alternatives available. Before taking any herbal supplements, please check with your health professional as there are possibilities it can affect existing treatments:
• Valerian root for anxiety and sleep disorders.
• Gingko Biloba for nerve-related issues and blood circulation.
• St John's Wort is sometimes prescribed for anxiety and depression but there are many side effects. If you take other forms of anti-depressants, you should not take this. It also takes a few weeks before this herbal remedy takes effect. Consult your Doctor before taking any herbal remedies to treat fibromyalgia.
• Infra-red sauna is another popular treatment that seems to help some people with the condition. It works by heating the skin which can reduce pain, stiffness and fatigue.
• Yoga therapy – some forms of yoga are helpful in strengthening the immunity and can help with the stiffness and some localized pain.
• Cannabis oil is known to have pain-relieving effects and in cases of extreme pain, it has helped dramatically.
• Cognitive behavioral therapy is a method that can help the person cope with this condition.
• Stress relief can help prevent anxiety which will reduce the triggers causing the pain.
• Regular exercise is known to induce serotonin levels and can alleviate symptoms. If you are in too much pain, gentle exercises like walking can help. If done regularly, this will help build up the endurance over time.
• Acupuncture is another non-drug treatment that can help with pain management.
• Changing your diet – it is known that certain foods trigger pain, so avoiding certain foods can help. Some people will avoid the common allergens like gluten, dairy, MSG and eggs.
As this differs from one person to another, the best way to work out which foods create a trigger is to keep a food journal. Keeping track of which foods cause a reaction, like headaches and fatigue, will help you identify what to keep out of your diet. As it's related to inflammation, anti-inflammatory foods might be a good addition to the diet, like turmeric.
2. Conventional medical treatments
As this condition is neurological, conventional narcotic analgesics won't work as it does not affect the neural transmitters in the brain. Seek the advice of your Doctor for more information.
3. Support groups
You can find local support groups near you or online where you can find more resources to help you live with this condition. Here are some useful places that can help:
• UK – Fibromyalgia Action UK is a charity that offers information and support to people with fibromyalgia. If you have any questions about fibromyalgia, call the charity's helpline on 0844 887 2444.
• US – In the US, you can contact National Fibromyalgia Association for support.
1. NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fibromyalgia/
2. Fibromyalgia News Today: https://fibromyalgianewstoday.com/2017/07/17/fibromyalgia-may-be-linked-to-changes-in-cerebral-blood-flow-study-says/
3. NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fibromyalgia/symptoms/
4. IBS.net: https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/living/ibs-and-fibromyalgia/