Dr. Claude Gallant

Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling like you've been hit by a truck? Not only does your body hurt all over, but you're also exhausted.

Or perhaps you're familiar with the following symptoms: chronic pain all over your body (with pain and stiffness often worse in the morning), sleep disorders, headaches, numbness in the limbs, irritable bowel syndrome, impaired memory (sometimes referred to as "fibrofog"), anxiety. If you suffer from chronic fatigue and depression, you may also be experiencing the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

There are many misconceptions about this condition. Unfortunately, some people still believe fibromyalgia is not a real disorder. Yet, it's estimated that this chronic pain disorder affects 10 million Americans. The majority are women between the ages of 20 and 50, but fibromyalgia also affects men, teens and children.

In people who have fibromyalgia, the brain and spinal cord process pain signals differently; they react more strongly to touch and pressure, with a heightened sensitivity to pain.

A confirmed diagnosis of fibromyalgia is complicated because the disorder is not easily diagnosed, as there's no laboratory test available. Your doctor must do a manual tender point exam and look for the presence of tenderness or pain in certain areas of your body. This exam is based on the classification criteria determined by the American College of Rheumatology.

To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you must meet the following criteria: widespread pain in all four quadrants of your body for a period of at least three months; and tenderness or pain in 11 of the 18 specified tender points when light pressure is applied.

The cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, but it's believed that it may involve various components such as:

Genetics. Scientists are still trying to isolate genetic markers for this disorder since it tends to run in families.

Physical and Emotional Stressors. Trauma (i.e. a car accident) or stress has been linked to fibromyalgia.

Other illnesses. Some ailments, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, and infections (either bacterial or viral) appear to trigger or aggravate the condition.

Chemical imbalances. An abnormal increase of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (known as neurotransmitters) is being investigated. This is because people suffering from fibromyalgia have an amplified response--in the form of extreme pain--to stimuli that would not normally be painful for healthy individuals.

While FDA-approved medications such as pregabalin (Lyrica), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and milnacipran (Savella) can be helpful, medication alone is often not sufficient for most patients.

Generally, fibromyalgia sufferers also rely on alternative treatments to minimize symptoms and improve their general health. Some alternative pain management treatments include: acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy, relaxation and biofeedback techniques, and gentle exercise programs such as Tai chi.

To help manage symptoms, sufferers must commit to modifying their lifestyles. This includes recognizing which factors aggravate or trigger symptoms, and avoiding them when possible. There are several common triggers for people suffering from fibromyalgia. Here's a run down, along with tips from www.NaturallySavvy.com on dealing with each one:

Stress: It plays a big role in fibromyalgia flare-ups. Reduce stress levels by practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.

Exercise: In certain instances, exertion can exacerbate some symptoms.

Weather: Variations in weather can cause painful symptoms and trigger headaches, muscle aches, and depression.

Smoking: This aggravates some symptoms, since nicotine impairs muscle function.

Poor posture: This often occurs because patients walk differently and hold their bodies differently to reduce muscle and joint pain. Unfortunately, posture changes may cause more harm than good.

Diet: Certain foods can trigger flare-ups. Good nutrition is a must for people with fibromyalgia, but you must identify which foods trigger flare-ups and avoid them.

Although several small studies have demonstrated that supplements containing omega-3, magnesium, ribose and the amino acid derivative SAMe have been used to treat fibromyalgia, research evidence is insufficient to draw conclusions on their effectiveness and more research is needed. While there are a lot of products offered to treat this disorder, research your options carefully, as some people may prey on your pain for their own profit.

While a lot of research has focused on fibromyalgia, it remains a challenging condition. Developing an individualized plan with your health care provider can help alleviate some of your symptoms and significantly improve your quality of life.

Dr. Claude Gallant is Naturally Savvy's Personal Care expert. She holds a Ph.D. in microbiology.


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Health - Living With Fibromyalgia: Steps to Limit Your Pain