What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition that involves battling symptoms of chronic pain, fatigue, and “brain fog” on a daily basis.
This relatively-common disease has devastating effects that can ultimately lead to the person becoming legally disabled.
Unlike some other diseases (such as various autoimmune diseases and Multiple Sclerosis), bodily tissues of those with Fibromyalgia (or “Fibro” for short) are not ravaged by inflammation, although inflammation might explain why “brain fog” occurs.
The tissue pain those with Fibro experience can extend to any area of the body and become what is referred to as “tender points” in which pain is the greatest.
So, what exactly does it feel like to have Fibromyalgia? In order to understand what someone with Fibro goes through, it is important that we break Fibromyalgia down into its three most debilitating components – cognitive decline, chronic fatigue, and, of course, chronic pain.
Fleeing the Fog
Those with Fibro and other diseases that involve cognitive decline (especially memory impairment) often refer to the dissociative states they experience as “brain fog” or “Fibro Fog”.
As Dr. Rodger Murphree claims in this video, the longer that you deal with your Fibro symptoms, the more difficult it becomes to overcome the “brain fog” hurdles.
You might find yourself forgetting where you put your car keys or feeling like your mind is in a deep lull or sleeping state.
You might struggle to consecutively read two pages from your favorite book. You might even forget your name for a moment!
“Fibro fog” is, in other words, the equivalent of trying to see out of a fogged-up car window.
Your mind will eventually defog, but the fog will eventually return when you experience another flare-up.
Why does “brain fog” occur? The theory behind this is that, when your symptoms flare, it is often caused by physical or emotional stress.
When this happens, your autonomic nervous system (ANS) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis both respond to the stressful trigger and end up exacerbating your symptoms.
Your body might be struggling to absorb crucial nutrients, such as B vitamins – a deficiency in which cognitive decline can be the result.
Science is still looking into why “brain fog” occurs. One thing that many doctors recommend doing to curb “fibro fog” is to get regular exercise.
Start off taking it slow but steady and incrementally increase your duration and/or intensity.
Many with Fibromyalgia find that walking and yoga are helpful ways to relieve “brain fog”.
As licensed naturopath Christine Doherty recommends, taking a B vitamin complex can help keep “brain fog” at bay.
Fighting the Fatigue
Many people with Fibro report feeling fatigued to the point that a good eight hours of sleep each night does not leave them feeling refreshed.
This often points to the presence of chronic fatigue. If you find yourself needing to take a nap or two each day just to feel rested, you might be suffering from chronic fatigue.
Stress triggers your adrenal gland to secrete the “stress” steroid hormone cortisol.
This glucocorticoid gets absorbed into the bloodstream and travels throughout your body.
Its main duty is to interact with other cells so as to keep inflammation low, your memory functioning properly, and blood sugar level down.
When your adrenals secrete too much cortisol, you will end up feeling weak, depressed, anxious, thirsty, and the frequent urge to urinate.
When your cortisol is consistently high, your adrenals become fatigued, thereby producing less cortisol than necessary.
This leads to out-of-control blood sugar levels (hence your frequent cravings for sugary sweets), pancreatic issues, and, of course, chronic fatigue.
Gastrointestinal irregularities are often behind some of the fatigue those with Fibromyalgia experience.
They also tend to explain problems with digesting food. Increased gut permeability (which is often referred to as “leaky gut syndrome”) is often a huge issue since it prevents your organs from receiving the nutrients gained from your food intake.
This, unfortunately, means that your body isn’t getting the energy it requires, hence feeling so drained all of the time.
Eating the right food is essential. Sugar is absolutely detrimental to those with chronic fatigue.
It will elevate any inflammation you have in your body, cause your blood sugar level to spike, and exacerbate any occurrence of hypoglycemia.
Gluten is also a “no-no” food for many with Fibromyalgia, as it tends to cause inflammation and is a common food sensitivity for those with Fibro.
Instead, opt for foods that act as natural anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. Opt for foods that provide extra B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium, such as spinach, kefir or yogurt, wild salmon, and almonds.
Persisting Through the Pain
Managing the physical pain that comes along with Fibromyalgia is much easier said than done.
Those with Fibro should be aware of the fact that there are a whopping 18 different pressure points located throughout the body. These pressure points occur in a total of nine pairs and are hotbeds for pain.
These points are located in the back of the neck, the front of the neck, elbows, knees, lower back, upper back, hips, chest, and shoulders.
You might find yourself using your hand to gently massage the pain on any of these pressure points.
Some doctors suggest that about 11 of these pressure points might be active for someone with Fibromyalgia.
Those with Fibromyalgia will have a lot of difficulty in trying to find relief for the pain generated in these pressure points.
The pain can range from mild to severe and fluctuate. If you are stressed and in a flare-up, your pain rating will probably be a lot higher than normal in these pressure point areas.
In other words, what might normally feel like a 4 or 5 on the pain scale might feel like a 9 or 10 when you’re in the middle of a flare-up.
What Are the Different Types of Fibromyalgia Therapy?
So, what kind of treatments are available for those coping with Fibro symptoms? While there is not yet a known cure for these symptoms, there is hope for some relief and even a reversal in the severity of some symptoms.
As far as the pain itself goes, there are multiple options for treatment, including:
- Physical therapy
- Trigger point injections
- Myofascial release
- Massage therapy
Medications are commonly prescribed by doctors as a way to manage fibromyalgia symptoms.
These meds can include Cymbalta, Lyrica, Meloxicam, Gabapentin, and Prednisone.
Cymbalta is a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SSNRI) anti-depressant that helps to regulate the way these neurotransmitters cause you to perceive pain.
Lyrica and Gabapentin seem to have a similar effect on pain processing due to how they interact with your body’s pain-signaling chemical messengers.
Meloxicam is a popularly-prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that reduces inflammatory responses throughout your body.
It also helps to treat pressure pain. Additionally, the corticosteroid Prednisone can be taken in order to suppress the immune system’s responses that cause inflammation.
It should be noted that all of these medications have potential side effects and should only be used as recommended by your doctor.
Misuse of these medications can result in the development of more painful issues, including stomach ulcers and vomiting up black bile.
They also have some known interactions with other drugs, so make sure you check with your doctor to ensure that these medications are safe for you to take in conjunction with anything else you are already taking.
Additionally, there are forms of psychological counseling that can be effective in coaching pain management skills.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the most popular forms of psychotherapy and has been used with success to treat chronic pain.
It involves assessing the thoughts that produce negative emotions and learning to replace them with more positive and realistic thoughts.
Many doctors also recommend living as stress-free of a lifestyle as possible. Unfortunately, for those with Fibromyalgia, this is no small feat.
We cannot fully eliminate stressful factors and triggers from our everyday lives, but reducing them can influence how we feel.
Remember, if your stress is high, your cortisol levels are high, and your body will fatigue. When your body fatigues, pain is more difficult for it to fend off.
Will I Ever Win the War on Fibromyalgia?
There is no cure for Fibromyalgia, and scientists are only starting to understand what causes it.
It is important to focus on the daily battles instead of the long-term war when dealing with Fibro.
Know that you will likely have to go to several doctors and will probably have people tell you that you don’t “look sick”. Those people might even be your doctors.
If you can, find a doctor who specializes in Fibromyalgia and/or chronic pain, as they might be better able to help you.
Arm yourself with your newfound knowledge of Fibromyalgia. There is no shame in opening up and sharing your experiences with others.
Let them know what it feels like to fight Fibromyalgia every single day.