Fibromyalgia: What Is It?
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS or “fibro” to those who have it) is a widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder exemplified by pain in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and joints. The pain occurs in all four quadrants of the body, head to feet, and is accompanied by a host of debilitating symptoms, including: extreme fatigue, “fibro-fog/brain-fog,” sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, vomiting, chronic headaches, migraines, dizziness, chills, cognitive/memory impairment, numbness/tingling sensations, burning skin sensation, cold hands and feet, swollen extremities, and impaired coordination, among many, many other symptoms.
As if that were not enough to deal with, a host of sensitivities also accompany, and can trigger or exacerbate, the symptoms and pain – sensitivities to odor, bright lights, loud noises, motion, changes in temperature and weather, infections, allergies, hormonal fluctuations, stress, anxiety, and exertion.
Fibromyalgia attacks millions, generally more women than men, but regardless of gender they tend to be overachievers or Type-A personalities, who take care of everything and everyone else, except themselves. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition with no cure or known cause. It is believed that certain events, like infections or accidents or another condition, may trigger the onset of this underlying abnormality that is already present.
Research shows that the spinal fluid of people with FMS have highly elevated levels of substance P, a neuron that transmits pain signals to the brain, and that, therefore, Fibromyalgia is most likely a neurological condition. Medical researchers are exploring various theories as to what this abnormality, that manifests itself as Fibromyalgia, might be.
“Theories pertaining to alterations in pain-related chemical transmitters (particularly substance P, nerve growth factor, serotonin, and nor-epinephrine), immune system function (e.g. abnormally elevated levels of cytokines that form the communications link between your immunologic and neurologic systems), sleep physiology, and hormonal irregularities are under investigation… The body’s response to exercise, stress, and alterations in the operation of your autonomic nervous system (the one that operates in your peripheral tissues) are also being evaluated.” (Excerpt from: http://www.fmnetnews.com/pages/basics.html)
Although there are many things we do not yet know about the cause of and the treatment or cure for FMS, we do know that Fibromyalgia’s symptoms, sensitivities, and many types of pains cycle through degrees of severity and duration, from barely manageable to debilitatingly unbearable, lasting from hours, to days, to weeks, to months.
Micro-cycles exist within each day, during which you might be fine one minute and in excruciating pain the next, with nausea and dizziness; or you might be carrying on a conversation and mid-sentence you are unable to find a simple word to complete your thought, and then promptly forget the thought; or without warning feel like someone “unplugged” you, experiencing a complete loss of energy that keeps you in bed for the rest of the day or week, as your whole body aches and shivers, as though you had the worst flu of your life. But there are also larger cycles of groups of symptoms and types of pain that last from a few days, to a few weeks, or a few months, as one set of pain and symptoms cycles out another cycles back again.
It is likely that most sufferers begin with limited symptoms and a more mild form of FMS, which, perhaps can be maintained at this mild level for a while, perhaps years, if not ignored early on. But it usually takes a battery of tests, exams, and guesses by your doctors to eliminate everything it is not before settling on a diagnosis, which can take months or years to reach.
Most sufferers with the severe form of Fibromyalgia push themselves through the early stages of pain and symptoms, often ignoring their health due to the demands of their careers and families, working harder and longer to accomplish the same amount, exacerbating the condition, increasing the severity and the number of pains and symptoms, which eventually and inevitably pushes them right off the cliff of severity into an abyss of countless pains and symptoms that are indescribable and impossible to understand unless you are a Fibro sufferer.
Doctors, frustrated by their inability to treat the condition or cure it, are often reluctant to take on Fibromyalgia patients. It seems EVERYTHING is wrong with these patients and nothing helps them, why waste the time? But where most Fibro sufferers find support for their condition is in other Fibro sufferers, who willingly share resources and information about what treatments, home remedies, supplements, and medications help or don’t help take the edge off, and who are always comparing notes on the latest research on possible causes and cures.
Only other fellow-Fibromites understand why in managing the flare-ups of your condition you stay home and avoid visitors, needing dark and quiet surroundings; why you need to turn down invitations by friends and no longer attend family functions; why you often don’t answer the phone and don’t stay in touch with anyone; why you are dependent on someone else to do the shopping and most of the cleaning; why a car ride or a short walk triggers pain and symptoms; why you don’t make any plans for the future, however small, because you never know how severe or incapacitating your symptoms will be the next week, the next day, or the next hour; why you are no longer able to do the fun things you used to love to do; why you are unable to work, having to give up the career you loved and built, depending instead on disability payments or a working spouse to survive; or why you feel frustrated and angry at the medical community, sad and scared about your future, or embarrassed and humiliated by your condition.
Unfortunately, for the Fibro sufferers, Fibromyalgia is a little known condition, with no known cause, no cure, no treatment. The medical community is uncertain about what to do for these patients, often dumping them on pain clinics, which often make things worse. Families and friends don’t understand why their invitations are turned down, why their phone calls are not answered, why messages are not returned, and eventually their family and friends stop calling, stop inviting, and move on with their lives. But Fibromites cannot move on with their lives; they live in the moment, just trying to get through the next five minutes, the next hour, the day.
If you have someone in your life with Fibromyalgia, take the time to understand their condition and what they are going through. There are countless different types of pains, symptoms, and sensitivities that attack the Fibro sufferer in different body locations, at different times, for different durations, in varying intensities, with varying degrees of disability, at any given moment, without warning. You will be amazed at how much support it will be to them to have someone understand what they are going through.
Martie Hevia (c) 2009 – All Rights Reserved
This is one of future posts about Fibromyalgia, that I hope you find useful if you are a sufferer and educational if you are not. Below are some online resources I have found useful and educational:
Fibro Online Information & Support
- Fibro Hugs: http://fibrohugs.org
- Fibromyalgia Network: http://www.fmnetnews.com
- National Fibromyalgia Association: http://www.fmaware.org/
- American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association: http://www.afsafund.org
- Fibromyalgia Support: http://www.fibromyalgiasupport.com
- Neurology Channel: http://www.neurologychannel.com/fibromyalgia
- National Fibromyalgia Research Association: http://www.nfra.net
- National Fibromyalgia Partnership: http://www.fmpartnership.org
- Medicine Net: http://www.medicinenet.com/fibromyalgia/article.htm
- Medicine Plus Medical Encyclopedia: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000427.htm
- Web MD: http://www.webmd.com/hw/fibromyalgia_cfids/hw196401.asp
- E-Medicine Health: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/fibromyalgia/article_em.htm
- Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fibromyalgia/DS00079
- Great Book on Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain: A Survival Manual (2nd Edition)
- Science Daily Article on “Hidden Sensory System Discovered in the Skin,” problems in which may contribute to Fibromyalgia: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091208083524.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:%20sciencedaily%20(ScienceDaily:%20Latest%20Science%20News
Martie Hevia (c) 2009 – All Rights Reserved