Living with Fibromyalgia
You feel like you are in constant pain, and you are always tired - even when it seems like you are getting plenty of sleep. You have been to the doctor, but one test after another has failed to show any cause for your symptoms. Sound familiar? If so, you may have a condition known as fibromyalgia.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic, non-progressive condition that is characterized by pain in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments; individuals suffering from this disorder may also experience tender points - areas of the body that are extremely sore to the touch - and fatigue.
It is not uncommon for people who are suffering from symptoms of fibromyalgia to delay seeking treatment; the disease is often misunderstood, and because those who have it often do not "look" sick, friends and family may believe they are either faking their pain or that it is "all in the head."
On the contrary, fibromyalgia is a recognized medical condition that can be treated successfully; individuals with the disease are often able to live full and satisfying lives.
What are the most common fibromyalgia symptoms?
One of the most commonly reported symptoms of fibromyalgia is widespread muscle pain. Individuals suffering from this condition also report tender spots which are highly painful to the touch; these are most often found in the following areas:
- the sides and top of the hip bones;
- the inner knees;
- the elbows;
- the upper chest region;
- the back of the head;
- between the shoulder blades;
- the sides of the neck.
Fatigue is another frequent complaint associated with fibromyalgia; people with this disease often awaken feeling unrested, even when they have gotten plenty of sleep. Those who live with this painful condition often have a number of other co-existing disorders, including:
- post-traumatic stress disorder;
- frequent headaches;
- irritable bowel syndrome;
- rheumatoid or osteoarthritis;
- restless leg syndrome.
What causes this painful condition?
Doctors have not yet determined the direct fibromyalgia causes, although they believe the symptoms are linked to a number of co-existing factors.
Genetics weigh heavily into an individual's likelihood of developing symptoms; if you have older family members who complain of the symptoms of this disease, you have an increased chance of suffering from the disorder as well. Infections and physical or emotional trauma are also frequently associated with fibromyalgia symptoms; many individuals fist experience symptoms after an illness or in combination with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Recent studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia frequently exhibit low levels of serotonin. Researchers believe that low levels of serotonin can increase the levels of neurotransmitters that bind to pain receptors in the brain, making the individual more sensitive to pain stimuli.
How can I treat my fibromyalgia symptoms?
Treating fibromyalgia typically combines pain relief with lifestyle changes to improve general health. Many health care professionals recommend analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for relieving muscle pain, and antidepressants are often prescribed to promote better sleep.
Counseling (behavioral therapy) can help patients learn to deal with the chronic pain and strengthen their positive beliefs about themselves.
Are there any fibromyalgia supplements that can help relieve my symptoms?
The following dietary supplements have been found highly effective for relieving the discomfort and fatigue associated with fibromylagia:
- SAMe: helps to decrease muscle pain and stiffness and relieves fatigue;
- 5HTP: a natural serotonin booster, this supplement helps to improve mood and reduce pain perception;
- Magnesium: this important mineral is known to help increase energy levels;
- Melatonin: helps regulate circadian rhythms and improves the quality of sleep;
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: along with other essential fatty acids, these nutrients help tp reduce inflammation and increase energy levels.
Living with fibromyalgia: How can I cope with the recurring pain?
In addition to conventional treatments and dietary supplements, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your overall health and boost your ability to cope with the uncomfortable symptoms of fibromyalgia:
- Eat a healthy diet, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and small amounts of unsaturated fats.
- Avoid processed foods, food additives such as MSG, and artificial sweeteners.
- Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages.
- Exercise regularly, if possible; talk to your doctor about the types of exercise and the intensity that is appropriate for you.
- Find a relaxation technique you enjoy to help you deal with the stress caused by chronic pain;
- Try massage therapy or acupuncture for relaxation and pain relief;
- Join a support group - talking with others who share your symptoms can give you a more positive outlook.
When you are experiencing frequent, recurring pain, it can be easy to become discouraged. Do not let others convince you that your pain and fatigue are all in your head, or that there is nothing you can do to feel better. While you may never be entirely free of symptoms, with proper treatment you should be able to keep them under control and enjoy a productive and satisfying life.