There are estimates that as high as 4 percent of the adult population in the United States suffers from this little-understood condition and that the vast majority are female–which is the case with most autoimmune diseases like lupus or multiple sclerosis. Fibromyalgia can be extremely debilitating and until recently was dismissed as a phantom disorder, or part of the patient’s imagination. The degree of pain and disability from fibromyalgia can range from mild to severe.
Besides widespread pain, patients with this condition often suffer from severe insomnia that results in exhaustion. Other symptoms include loss of libido, brain fog, nasal congestion, irritable bowel syndrome and weight gain. In addition, the pain can be transient or persistent. Because muscles need sleep and good nutrition to function properly, they stay knotty and painful.
What exactly causes fibromyalgia is still largely a mystery but some researchers feel it’s an energy crisis. When a person suffers overwhelming stress, possibly from a serious injury, infection, other trauma or an emotional crisis, the hypothalamus in the brain acts like a circuit breaker and decreases its function in order to protect the body. It’s a little like blowing a fuse. The hypothalamus is the energy center in the brain that controls sleep, hormones, temperature, blood flow and blood pressure. When a person doesn’t sleep properly, the immune system also stops working properly and the body manifests pain.
Diagnosing this mystery condition is very difficult and many medical providers overlook it because the symptoms vary so widely from patient to patient. There are no simple lab tests or scans that can pinpoint fibromyalgia. It takes a skilled, patient and understanding provider to eventually come up with a diagnosis of the condition.
If someone has fibromyalgia or suspects they might have it, there are a number of things that can be done to help. Make the bedroom a haven that’s free of electronic devices and take a nice warm bath with Epsom salts before retiring for the night. There are also some good prescription sleep aides that can be requested of the primary care provider.
The provider should also check for low thryoid, adrenal function, estrogen (if female) and testosterone (if male) levels to ensure they are within normal ranges.
Nutritionally, low vitamin D has been shown to contribute to fibromyalgia so it’s a good idea to have those levels checked and supplemented if low. Eliminating “toxic” foods, such as sugar and processed foods from the diet is especially important.
Finally, exercise, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk once or twice a day. Not overdoing it is very important but after 10 weeks, if the walking is well tolerated, gradually increasing the time is safe and effective in helping to control muscle pain.