Other common symptoms of fibromyalgia include extreme tiredness and poor quality sleep. Some people find they feel chronic pain and are vague and confused at times. These types of symptoms are common and they affect around 2-5% of the population in Australia, mainly young to middle-aged women.
If you suffer from fibromyalgia you may find it is better at times when you’re well rested and not stressed but it flares up when you’re under emotional or physical stress.
Let’s examine the symptoms of fibromyalgia in a bit more detail:
- Pain in many different muscles and bones, muscle weakness and cramps
- Tenderness or stiffness in the muscles or bones which has been there for some time
- Extreme tiredness
- Some difficulty in sleeping, frequent waking during night, restless leg syndrome
- Poor concentration and memory loss, inability to multi-task, slow to get going
- Emotional issues such as anxiety and depression
- Digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome
- Headaches and migraines
- Some numbness and tingling in the arms and legs
- Possibly cardiac arrhythmias, vertigo, temperature instability, respiratory disturbances, irritable bowel or bladder dysfunction, dysmenorrhea
Why do people get fibromyalgia?
The causative factors behind fibromyalgia are not fully understood yet. It’s thought to be linked to other syndromes such as chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivities and irritable bowel syndrome and this has led people to think it may be one of those conditions more sensitive individuals get to various toxins in the environment.
There does seem to be a link with ME and CFS. FM affects between 2 and 10% of the population and like ME/CFS, is mostly women although men and adolescents do acquire it. It tends to develop during middle adulthood.
Before the onset of fibromyalgia, most people enjoyed an otherwise healthy active lifestyle. There is some evidence coming out that a physical trauma, such as a spinal injury or whiplash can trigger fibromyalgia in some people. Other associated physical traumas include surgery, repetitive strain, childbirth, viral infections and chemical exposures. Emotional stress may also trigger the illness.
Some people may be genetically predisposed to fibromyalgia especially when more than one family member is affected.
How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?
It can be hard to diagnose fibromyalgia because there’s no single test for it. If your doctor or naturopath feels you may have fibromyalgia they usually send you to have a range of blood tests and x-rays done to eliminate other possible causes of your muscle and bone pain.
Once you’ve done this range of tests and x-rays, if nothing else has shown up then the diagnosis of fibromyalgia could be given.
How is fibromyalgia treated?
There’s no ‘cure’ for fibromyalgia at this stage but there are many ways to ease the symptoms and most people find they can get relief from their symptoms via medical or natural treatments.
If you think you may have fibromyalgia you will need to learn more about it and be active in what you do to find relief as a lot of your recovery will depend on what you do.
Here’s a list of the factors which are important for symptom relief:
- Regular Exercise: If you partake in regular physical exercise this will reduce pain and tiredness and at the same time improve the quality of your sleep. But be careful because exercise should be introduced slowly and gradually. You may find hydrotherapy, tai chi, yoga and Pilates are all good places to start. But if you want to be certain, you could consult a physiotherapist for help in designing the right exercise program for you.
- Increase the Quality of Your Sleep: Firstly, you should reduce or eliminate your tea, coffee and caffeine intake after lunch. As well, eliminate any foods which don’t agree with you as these will make it harder for you to sleep properly. Then you need to set aside more time in your life to prepare for your sleep than you normally would. If possible, you should be preparing for sleep as early as 9 to 10pm. Implementing a relaxing bed time preparation routine will help such as quiet reading, a sauna or massage just before bed. You should avoid bright lights as well such as TV, computer and mobile phone light for 90 minutes before you go to bed and this will greatly increase the quality of your sleep.
- Taking Time Out to De-stress Can Also Help: It’s a good idea to put some time into managing your stress levels. You might want to plan your life more so you can regulate the pace. You could have a weekly massage for muscle relaxation and this will also decrease your stress levels. You can also take up meditation, mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy or yoga. All of these could give you some relief as stress will always make symptoms feel much stronger if it isn’t handled.
- Medication or Supplements: Usually common pain relievers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory drugs are not helpful for fibromyalgia. Some people have found relief with medicines which are sometimes used to treat epilepsy or depression. But for long-term treatment, natural supplements for your vitamin and mineral intake as well as anti-inflammatory supplements such as Turmeric and Curcumin have helped people a great deal and seem to work more the longer you use them.
Eating a Balanced Diet: By giving yourself a high level of nutrition, you’ll provide your body with better energy levels and at the same time help to maintain your weight. You will need to check if you have any food intolerances. You can check your diet Please see our page on Nutrition And ME/CFS.
You can get more information about fibromyalgia by talking with your doctor or you can visit the Arthritis Australia website.
- Education – people with FM need to understand as much as is practicable about the condition in order to decide which management approach will help them. Keep yourself informed.
- Medication – combined with other strategies, medication may be used to manage pain, reduce stress or promote sleep. Please also see our page on Sleep – including sleep hygiene.
- Exercise – a gentle aerobic exercise program, such as walking, tai chi or water-based exercise, can help to manage symptoms such as pain, fatigue and sleep disturbance. Please see our page on Exercise (Graded Exercise Therapy).
- Relaxation – stress may aggravate symptoms. Skills that can help manage stress include planning, relaxation, assertiveness and emotional management.
- Pacing – balancing rest and activity, plan your activities to make the most of your energy by alternating periods of activity with rest. Break large jobs down into small achievable tasks so that you do not overdo things. Please see our page on Pacing.
- Massage of one form or another – this can aid muscle relaxation and stress management.
- Nutrition – eating a diet high in lean protein and fibre, with lower carbohydrates will help. A balanced diet can help provide you with better energy levels, help to maintain your weight, give you a greater sense of wellbeing, and give you a sense of control over your life. Identify any potential food intolerances and if you need more information see this article on Fibromyalgia and food.