It’s a fact of life – everyone experiences bodily pain, with some people encountering more than others. In many cases, this pain is temporary, and can be easily cured by over-the-counter pain relievers. There are some painful conditions, however, that prove to be immune to all prescribed treatments. One example of such an affliction is fibromyalgia, a mysterious condition that impacts the daily lives millions of Americans. While a cure for fibromyalgia has not yet been unearthed, there are practical methods for managing the symptoms of this chronic illness.
Fibromyalgia’s Causes and Symptoms
Modern medicine has been unable to conclusively pinpoint the root causes of Fibromyalgia. Despite its ambiguity, patients with this condition do seem to share a few common characteristics:
Genes – If a history of fibromyalgia exists in your family, your odds of contracting this condition increase substantially.
Infections – Fibromyalgia can triggered by the presence of an altogether separate infection.
Physical/Emotional Trauma – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, an ailment that causes a patient to suffer from chronic anxiety-related problems, has also been linked to a higher risk of fibromyalgia.
Presence of Rheumatic Disease – A patient who has previously been diagnosed with a rheumatic disease stands a higher chance of developing fibromyalgia. Rheumatic diseases include such conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Gender – A strong majority of patients with fibromyalgia – some 80 percent – are women.
Age – Most patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia are between the ages of 35 and 55. Despite this fact, it is not unheard of for those in younger age groups to develop this condition.
As stated above, fibromyalgia has gained a notorious reputation for its pain-inducing symptoms. Patients with this condition often complain of persistent dull aches in their muscles. Unlike other medical ailments, which usually target a single area of the body, fibromyalgia can have a fairly broad reach. In fact, this condition usually centers its attack on ten specific tender points. These vulnerable areas experience pain when pressure is applied to them. A list of these tender points is shown below:
- Back of the head
- Between shoulder blades
- Top of shoulders
- Front sides of neck
- Upper chest
- Outer elbows
- Upper hips
- Sides of hips
- Inner knees
As if this widespread, chronic pain is not bad enough, many fibromyalgia sufferers are also stricken with frequent bouts of fatigue. This fatigue occurs even if a patient gets adequate sleep on a regular basis. On the other hand, the frequent bursts of pain caused by fibromyalgia are often strong enough to jolt a patient out of his or her sleep. Consequentially, many fibromyalgia patients also suffer from sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. In turn, a lack of sleep only serves to worsen the patient’s pain, initiating a painful cycle of sleepless days and nights
Fibromyalgia often goes hand-in-hand with a variety of other medical issues. It is not uncommon for a Fibromyalgia patient to also have anxiety, depression, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, female patients may also develop endometriosis, a condition in which the lining of a woman’s womb extends beyond its normal boundaries.
A foolproof cure for fibromyalgia remains an elusive goal for researchers. As a result, the treatments commonly prescribed to patients focus on alleviating fibromyalgia’s two main symptoms – pain and fatigue. In keeping with this approach, fibromyalgia patients are usually assigned some combination of analgesics and antidepressant medications.
Analgesics – “Analgesics” is simply the medical term for painkillers. When prescribing painkillers, a doctor will likely first try well-known, over-the-counter medications. If these medications prove unsuccessful, your doctor may suggest Tramadol, a prescription painkiller sold under the name Ultram. Tramadol can be taken with over-the-counter pain medications; however, your doctor may advise against this. You may also be advised to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (known as NSAIDs). The brand names of NSAIDs should sound very familiar to most consumers – they include Aleve, Motrin and Advil.
Antidepressants – At first glance, it may seem strange that antidepressants would be used to treat a condition like fibromyalgia. This tactic makes more sense when you consider that duloxetine (brand name: Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella) are also used to by doctors to reduce pain and fatigue in fibromyalgia patients. To help patients sleep, amitriptyline or fluoxetine (Prozac) is sometimes prescribed.
Anti-Seizure medications – Like antidepressants, seizure medications represent a surprising and unexpected weapon against fibromyalgia. Surprisingly, the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to combat fibromyalgia was an anti-seizure medication (pregabalin, sold under the brand name Lyrica).
If you are weary about relying too heavily on antidepressants or painkillers, or have used such medications without success, you might consider picking some of the following all-natural supplements (we must stress that you should always consult with your doctor regarding treatments for fibromyalgia).
S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) – Yes, this one is definitely tough to pronounce. However, it may be worth the investment – some research has shown that it might decrease the number of “tender points” within the body. Another study found no such reduction in tender points, but did observe that the subjects who took SAMe exhibited less pain, fatigue, morning stiffness and overall mood.
Unfortunately, there are some side-effects of taking SAMe. This supplement has been known to cause indigestion, dry mouth and insomnia. In more severe cases, patients have reported experiencing severe diarrhea, dizziness, heartburn and headaches.
Like many other supplements, there are restrictions regarding the safe use of SAMe. If you are using antidepressants, do not take this supplement without first consulting your doctor. People suffering from bipolar disorder should avoid SAMe, as the supplement may increase the severity of manic episode. Patients who are currently taking the drug levidopa should also avoid SAMe. It has not yet been determined if SAMe is safe for pregnant or nursing women and children to consume.
Magnesium – It’s not too difficult to find magnesium at your local grocery store, as this mineral is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Consumers also have the option of buying magnesium in supplement form.
Magnesium may help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia. One study of fibromyalgia patients found that administering 300mg of magnesium daily (along with 1200mg of malic acid) reduced symptoms of pain and tenderness over a six month span. Despite these promising results, additional research will be needed to firmly establish a correlation between magnesium intake and a reduction in fibromyalgia symptoms.
Like SAMe, consuming significant quantities of Magnesium carries along a number of potential side-effects. Some patients have reported diarrhea, nausea, confusion, irregular heart rate, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness and loss of appetite. In addition, people taking certain drugs for osteoporosis and high blood pressure should consult with their doctor before taking magnesium supplements, as the additional magnesium may interfere with such medications. Magnesium supplements may also cause adverse reactions when taken in conjunction with some antibiotics, muscle relaxants and diuretics.
Vitamin D – Ah, good ol’ Vitamin D! It seems appropriate that such a potent nutrient would appear on this list, as the many benefits of vitamin D are well known amongst doctors and casual observers alike. As if its résumé wasn’t strong enough, some research suggests that Vitamin D can be used to combat fibromyalgia; a German study of nearly 1,000 fibromyalgia patients found a strong link between low vitamin D levels and longer bouts of muscle and bone pain. Such findings were echoed in a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, which examined 150 Minnesota residents with chronic bone and muscle pain – hallmark symptoms of fibromyalgia. Of the individuals surveyed for this study, a staggering 93% were deficient in vitamin D.
Other research has somewhat contradicted these findings; a study of 75 fibromyalgia patients found no link between vitamin D levels and muscular/skeletal pain. Interestingly enough, the same study did report a solid connection between vitamin D deficiency and anxiety and depression.
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) – Some researchers theorize that 5-hydroxytrytophan, also known by the much-easier-to-pronounce abbreviation 5-HTP, might provide pain relief to fibromyalgia patients by increasing the brain’s input of serotonin. A study of 50 fibromyalgia patients found that those who took 5-HTP suffered less pain, anxiety, stiffness and fatigue than those who didn’t take the supplement. These same subjects also reported fewer tender points and improved sleep patterns. Furthermore, all discernable side-effects were temporary and of mild intensity.
Vitamin B12 – As with Vitamin D, some research has indicated that fibromyalgia patients are lacking in yet another nutrient – vitamin B12. In a study of 12 patients with fibromyalgia, Swedish researchers found that 7 had low levels of Vitamin B12 in their cerebrospinal fluid (a bodily fluid that flows around the brain and spine.).
In keeping with this theory, at least one study has linked the application of capsaicin cream to reduced pain in fibromyalgia patients. For this particular study, patients were given a cream consisting of .025 % capsaicin. Within 4 weeks, the pain levels of the test subjects had decreased noticeably.
Fighting Fibromyalgia through Food
It is possible to alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia through diet. Unfortunately, the foods that aggravate fibromyalgia symptoms can vary widely from one patient to the next. Thus, it is somewhat difficult to propose a universal list of foods to both target and avoid. However, some reasonable food-related guidelines do exist for fibromyalgia sufferers. By adopting these common-sense techniques, you may notice a significant reduction in both pain and fatigue.
Increase Your Vitamin D Intake – Getting your required daily dose of vitamin D may make you less reliant on painkillers; according to a 2008 study, being significantly deficient in vitamin D may double the amount of painkillers necessary for alleviating fibromyalgia symptoms.
Subtract Additives – Common additives, such as MSG (monosodium glutamate) and aspartame, are used by food producers to improve product taste and longevity, among other reasons. However, as is so often the case when it comes to food, what’s good for the food manufacturer’s bottom line isn’t so good for your body. One study suggested a link between consumption of additive-laden foods and fibromyalgia; likewise, when the subjects reduced their intake of additives, their symptoms subsided.
Go Fish! – Certain fish, such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, oysters and albacore tuna are jammed pack with Omega 3 fatty acids. Research has shown that Omega 3 fatty acids can offer relief for patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. Given that these two conditions often accompany fibromyalgia, fish can prove especially useful for fibromyalgia sufferers.
Cutback on Caffeine – We’ve all felt it – that drowsy, sluggish feeling during the afternoon hours at work. Fibromyalgia patients are hit especially hard by this problem, since they often struggle with getting an adequate amount of sleep. It’s very tempting to resort to a quick caffeine-fueled remedy, such caffeinated coffees, teas and energy drinks. Such a decision would be a mistake; the extra caffeine will make it even harder for weary fibromyalgia patients to fall asleep, thus exacerbating their already troublesome fatigue problems. If you need a small energy boost during the daytime, try sipping on a cup of decaffeinated green tea. As an added bonus, decaf green tea is also a rich source of antioxidants.
Chow Down on Fruits and Veggies – One theory regarding the cause of fibromyalgia argues that the culprit is a lack of antioxidants within the body. According to this theory, fibromyalgia patients simply do not produce enough antioxidants, allowing free radicals to roam unchecked inside the patient’s body. Among their many health benefits, fruits and veggies are filled to the brim with vitamins A, C and E, nutrients that provide the body with sorely needed antioxidants. Next time your go shopping, make sure to pick up some of the following items:
Fibromyalgia can be frustrating illness – it has no known cure, and afflicts its targets with frequent waves of pain and fatigue. Though a combination of proper treatment and diet, it is possible for patients to rollback the effects of fibromyalgia, and reclaim their lives in the process.