If you’re like some of my patients who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you know the frustration of dealing with a chronic, and often, very painful and debilitating condition. What you might not know, however, is that new research into fibromyalgia has shed some light on why the condition may develop, what improves it and, perhaps, might cure it for good.
Fibromyalgia – What Is It?
Fibromyalgia is a complex rheumatoid disorder sometimes accompanying rheumatoid arthritis or lupus as a secondary condition. However, fibromyalgia can also be a primary condition. It affects up to 5% of the American population, most of its sufferers are women, though men do get fibromyalgia. It consists of generalized musculoskeletal pain and tenderness in at least 11 of 18 critical points on the body which is the general diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia. Lately, the drug Lyrica has been used to treat its symptoms.
The most telling symptoms of fibromyalgia that occur in 100% of cases are muscular pain. Second to that, are fatigue, insomnia, joint pain, headaches, restless legs, cramps, numbness and tingling. However, people with fibromyalgia may also experience memory and concentration problems and major depression.
What Causes Fibromyalgia
Back around 1990 when fibromyalgia was given credence as a chronic condition, the cause of it was largely unknown. However, today in 2011, several areas of research have uncovered new, possible causes of fibromyalgia that include:
➢ Obesity: A recent (January 2011) study by the University of Utah related fibromyalgia to obesity as it seemed to be a common factor in people with the condition. Obese subjects had increased sensitivity to pain in the lower extremities, low activity levels, and frequently had disrupted sleep patterns, some from sleep apnea. When the obese subjects lost weight, their activity and sleep levels improved as did their fibromyalgia symptoms.
➢ Sleep Disorders: Research shows that people with fibromyalgia tend to sleep poorly and do not get the required 7 hours of restorative sleep. Whether fitful sleeping is due to the fibromyalgia itself or actually causes the condition is not certain. However, when fibromyalgia sufferers are able to sleep longer and more restfully, their symptoms are greatly improved. Sleep, then, is a key factor in treating the condition.
➢ Central Nervous System Disorder: Some researchers think that fibromyalgia is caused by a brain/spinal cord problem in regulating pain signals. More intense than necessary pain signals are sent throughout the body in response to light touch. Treatment consists of re-regulating the pain signals using a drug called pregabylin.
➢ Bacterial: New research lead by the Autoimmunity Research Foundation asserts that a “biofilm” bacterium is actually responsible for fibromyalgia and other autoimmune disorders like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Lyme disease, sarcoidosis. They all have inflammation as a factor thought to be caused by infection with these bacteria. Treatment involves using the drug olmesartan four times daily to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight the bacteria and reduce inflammation.
What Can You Do About Fibromyalgia?
My patients know that I am open-minded to new research into treating medical conditions, including prescription drugs and alternative medicine. However, I like to recommend to my patients that they at least try, first, a more natural approach to getting their symptoms under better control. In the case of fibromyalgia, I recommend the following:
➢ Diet/Nutrition: Fibromyalgia may be aggravated, by food sensitivities, or even allergies, which can cause inflammation/pain in muscles and joints. You might try a food rotation diet with an Allergy and Immunology specialist to see if you respond to omitting certain foods from your diet. A magnesium deficiency can keep muscles from relaxing too.
➢ Exercise: My patients with fibromyalgia often say that it is hard for them to exercise because of pain. What I recommend to them is swimming in a warm, indoor pool. Submerging the body in water takes tension out of muscles and greatly improves symptoms. Riding a bicycle, or doing yoga and Pilates can help with flexibility.
➢ Sleep: Getting enough sleep every night seems to dramatically improve fibromyalgia. Therefore, getting and staying asleep for at least 7 hours a night is key to reducing muscle tension and cramps.
➢ Far Infrared Sauna: Reduces inflammation and muscle tension. Try to spend 15 or 20 minutes at least once a week in a FIR sauna. You also sweat out toxins like heavy metals that may be aggravating your condition. Local health clubs may have them near you and usually charge about $20 for one session.
➢ Reduce/Omit Sugar: High sugar intake aggravates inflammation in the body through the acidic environment it promotes. Fibromyalgia sufferers have reported dramatic improvement in their symptoms when cutting back on sugar. Read labels and limit sugar to 20 grams tops a day. This will also help you if you are overweight.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that is difficult to live with. It can sap your enthusiasm for participating in activities and make you depressed. Take heart, though, as many of my fibromyalgia patients have greatly improved, and some even alleviated their symptoms using the above natural recommendations alone or in addition to their prescribed treatments.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Photo Credit: webmd.com