Between 4 and 5 million adults in the US alone suffer from fibromyalgia, yet this condition is still such a mystery to many.
As this condition can mirror others, doctors are often puzzled and patients become discouraged looking not only for a diagnosis, but treatment and relief.
Some experience extreme, even debilitating pain that can mimic arthritis. Others suffer from chronic fatigue, depression, and anxiety while dealing with pain.
Some experience rare symptoms like respiratory distress or even cold/flu like symptoms, while others experience much less common things like nausea and cognitive difficulties.
Thankfully, we’re learning more all the time about fibromyalgia, and that means answers! And, answers mean treatment, relief, and controlling painful flare ups.
If you suffer from fibromyalgia or think you or a loved one may be experiencing the hallmark symptoms of this condition, here we’ll cover the basics and beyond where you can learn of symptoms, causes, relief, flare up prevention, and more.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that has puzzled physicians for some time. It has been thought of as an invisible disease in the past, as the pain associated with this condition often seems to occur without a trace.
The symptoms of fibromyalgia, which we’ll detail in depth in a moment, often mirror other conditions, such as arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome, adding another element of difficulty when it comes to diagnosis.
And, as there are currently no lab tests to identify fibromyalgia, physicians generally diagnose based upon symptoms alone.
The general symptoms of fibromyalgia include musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, pain or tenderness in muscles and joints, difficulty sleeping, and even disruptions in cognitive function.
Sufferers are often considered to have a heightened sense of pain, resulting in feelings of continual aching (generally in the muscles).
While this isn’t a condition that worsens over time, there is currently no cure for fibromyalgia.
But, there are ways that you can manage this condition and even help to relieve symptoms and decrease the likelihood of flare ups.
Below we’ll further detail the symptoms, causes, triggers, treatments, and more concerning fibromyalgia.
1- Fibromyalgia Symptoms
As we stated above, the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are chronic pain (musculoskeletal and joint), fatigue, and difficulty sleeping.
But, those only scratch the surface.
The following is a list of the most commonly reported symptoms of fibromyalgia:
- Widespread pain
- Stiffness or pain in the jaw
- Pain and stiffness in muscles and joints upon waking
- Pain in the face and adjoining muscles and tissues
- Twitching or cramping in muscles
- Painful periods
- Restless leg syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Difficulty with memory
- Difficulty concentrating
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Irregular sleep patterns or difficulty sleeping
- Sensitivity to cold and heat
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Mood swings
There are also some less common symptoms that may occur with this condition, including:
- Weight gain
- Respiratory difficulties (breathing)
- Difficulty seeing (vision)
2- Who Is Affected Most By Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia symptoms can occur at any stage of life, but most have reported the onset of such symptoms in their mid 40’s.
Women are more likely to have fibromyalgia than men.
It is most common amongst smokers, obese individuals, those who have experienced trauma to the brain or spinal cord, and those who have other rheumatic conditions (such as lupus or arthritis).
Genetics are thought to potentially be a factor in what causes fibromyalgia, though most believe the root of this condition lies in the fact that sufferers do not process pain in the way most individuals do.
3- Fibromyalgia Triggers
Fibromyalgia sufferers know all too well that symptoms can flare without warning.
However, as experts are continually learning more about this condition, they’ve been able to pinpoint some specifics about what may trigger fibromyalgia flare ups.
Stress (chronic) is one factor that may be linked to an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia. And, short term or immediate stresses can contribute to fibromyalgia flare ups.
Changes in weather, specifically changes in barometric pressure, have also been reported to cause painful fibromyalgia episodes.
Hormonal changes associated with both menopause and menstruation can also trigger a fibromyalgia flare up.
And, diet can also play a role in triggering or even preventing flare ups. (We’ll take a look at this in further detail in a moment.)
There are a few FDA approved medicines to treat fibromyalgia. And, physicians often recommend pain relievers and antidepressants to treat specific symptoms.
But, aside from medications other options are available for treatment as well.
At home, you can incorporate regular exercise, seek to reduce stress in your life, and try to get enough restful sleep to relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.
Physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care have also been successful methods for finding fibromyalgia relief.
And, for those struggling with the toll this condition can take on one’s mental health, behavior modification therapy, talk therapy, and psychotherapy have proven beneficial as well.
5- Preventing Flare-Ups
Aside from treating flare ups that do occur, there are also ways to prevent those flare ups from happening in the first place.
- Maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight if you are overweight has been shown to lessen the frequency of fibromyalgia symptoms.
- Eating low sugar foods that contain lots of fiber such as almonds, avocado, oatmeal, and even tofu have been shown to boost energy, improving fibromyalgia fatigue.
- Journalize your triggers. Since fibromyalgia can vary greatly in symptoms and severity between people, better understanding what causes your unique triggers begins with knowing exactly what causes your flare ups. Once you pinpoint these things, it will become easier for you to prevent them from occurring.
- Though we’ve already mentioned these in regards to treatment, it is worth noting a second time that regular exercise, ample sleep, and stress reduction can all play a vital role in preventing or controlling fibromyalgia flare ups.
- While exercise is crucial, there’s a fine line here when it comes to fibromyalgia. Doing too much, or overdoing it, can actually cause flare ups. So, listen to your body. Be sure to include exercise, and increase activity over time, but also listen to your body along the way and heed its warning signals.
Overall, when it comes to exercise, moderation is key for fibromyalgia sufferers. Doing too little can keep flare ups common, but doing too much just because you’re having a good day can actually cause a set back or flare up.
6- Fibromyalgia Or Arthritis
Fibromyalgia and arthritis share multiple symptoms.
And, just like arthritis, fibromyalgia is classified as a rheumatic condition due to its effect on the bones, joints, and muscles.
However, there are some distinct differences in these conditions:
- While fibromyalgia can cause painful joints, it does not damage joints or muscles as arthritis does.
- Arthritis is a degenerative disease, whereas fibromyalgia can be improved with treatment.
7- Fibromyalgia Or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia are also similar in many ways, and many believe this to contribute to the difficulties in diagnosing fibromyalgia.
Though the symptoms between these two conditions are highly similar, the most common symptom of fibromyalgia is pain, and the most common symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome is extreme tiredness that does not improve with rest.
Some individuals have been diagnosed as having both fibromyalgia and CFS.
8- Diet And Fibromyalgia
Some foods have been shown to trigger or worsen fibromyalgia symptoms.
It is generally believed that this is due to these foods causing an increase in inflammation throughout the body as well as potentially aggravating food sensitivities.
If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or struggle to keep your symptoms under control, consider limiting the following foods/drinks:
Alcohol– Some believe that moderate alcohol consumption can actually help to relieve fibromyalgia symptoms, while others insist that drinking alcohol causes flare ups. So, listen to your body, and adapt your diet accordingly concerning alcohol consumption.
It is also important to note that drinking alcohol while taking some fibromyalgia medications may cause harm.
Sugar – Studies show that eating foods high in sugar, especially processed sugars, can increase fibromyalgia pain.
Glucose, fructose, and sucrose, often “hidden” in so-called healthy foods can also contribute to fibromyalgia flare ups.
Processed Foods – Unhealthy fats and sugars are core components in many processed foods, and each of these can cause increased inflammation throughout the body, which can lead to fibromyalgia pain, fatigue, headaches, and more.
Food sensitivities can also be aggravated by preservatives and dyes often found in processed foods.
Carbohydrates – Refined carbohydrates are known to cause blood sugar levels to increase and decrease rapidly. And, these fluctuations can cause pain and fatigue from fibromyalgia to worsen.
On a positive note, some studies have shown that those who refrained from eating refined sugars and carbohydrates saw a reduction in fibromyalgia symptoms.
Unhealthy fats – Vegetable oils are known to cause inflammation throughout the body when heated to high temperatures, such as is done when frying foods. Some medical literature details the link between these unhealthy oils, specifically fried foods, and the worsening of fibromyalgia symptoms.
Gluten – A 2014 study has suggested that gluten can be a trigger for fibromyalgia symptoms. This study showed that removing gluten from one’s diet resulted in reductions in both pain and inflammation.
Additives – Cutting out additives and artificial ingredients like aspartame and MSG (monosodium glutamate) from one’s diet has been shown to reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia.
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