You’ve been in pain for a while now, and it’s bad enough that you finally relent to going to the doctor. Even with all the tests the doctors can’t find a diagnosable thing wrong with you. Only then does the doctor bring up fibromyalgia.
It’s easy to see why some people find fibromyalgia hard to understand. When you look fine on the outside, it's hard for people to believe how much you're suffering on the inside. For people living with fibromyalgia, each day is different. You may have a day where you just can’t physically get out of bed. You may also have days where you are virtually pain free.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, for a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, you must have tenderness at a minimum of 11 of 18 specific "tender points" associated with the condition. Fibromyalgia is diagnosed in patients who have fewer tender points, but they have severe, widespread pain symptoms that are present for at least three months.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact science to fibromyalgia. Other than widespread pain, it can cause other symptoms including: cognitive and memory issues, insomnia, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, numbness and tingling in your hands and feet, restless leg syndrome, and sensitivity to cold and noise.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
While the exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, research has pinpointed that you are more likely to get it if you have been in a car accident, suffered a severe infection or illness, or if you have post-traumatic stress disorder. There is a link to types of stress on the body and fibromyalgia. Also, there is the hereditary link. If someone in your family has fibromyalgia, you are more likely to get it.
So you've been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, now what? First and foremost, it’s important to find a doctor that really understands fibromyalgia, as well as someone you feel comfortable discussing your symptoms with. You can seek treatment from a general internist or a rheumatologist, who treats arthritis and other conditions affecting the joints and soft tissue.
The first step is usually treating the muscle and joint pain. Most treatments for fibromyalgia do involve prescription medication. Often medicines are prescribed to help with swelling and pain, and anti-depressants have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
While treatment often involves medications, it’s also important to note that good sleep habits factor in with the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms. One way to reduce flare-ups of fibromyalgia is to make sure to have a good sleep routine.
Try to avoid daytime naps, and limit your caffeine intake. It’s also a good idea to allow yourself time to wind down before bed. Whether it’s by doing light stretching, or even a few minutes of meditation, calming the mind and body will help you relax and fall asleep.
Keep a Diet Diary
In a survey published in Clinical Rheumatology, 42 percent of fibromyalgia patients said their symptoms worsened after eating certain foods. One way to keep track of the foods that may aggravate your fibromyalgia is to keep a food diary, writing down everything you eat each day.
You may begin to notice that your pain worsens with certain foods, and this can be different for everyone. Some of the trigger foods can be wheat, dairy products, eggs, processed food, and even food additives.
Be Kind Even When You Don’t Understand
I have several friends with fibromyalgia and each one’s symptoms are different. While they all experience pain, the frequency and severity varies. One thing they have in common is that they all want people to understand that when they are not feeling their best, they are not just being lazy. They aren’t over-exaggerating aches and pains. The pain can be debilitating.
It’s frustrating enough to be in frequent or constant pain, the last thing people with fibromyalgia need is to be judged for not having a “real illness.” Although it may seem like fibromyalgia is the catch-all term for unexplained pain, when you are the person suffering it’s very real.
Image by: KRFurbeck