According to the Cleveland Clinic, fibromyalgia affects more than two percent of the general population. Though it affects both women and men, women are more likely than men to experience symptoms of this painful, arthritis-related disease that is often difficult to diagnose and treat. As medical experts continue to explore the causes for fibromyalgia, to date there is no exact explanation for its occurrence. Some experts believe it may be the result of hormonal and chemical imbalances in the body, while others think it may be hereditary. With little to no information on why fibromyalgia strikes, adequate treatment is often difficult for doctors to prescribe.
An old theory linked fibromyalgia to depression, fueled by its frequent occurrence in female patients and the fact that women have seven times less the amount of serotonin in their brains. In recent years, scientists have determined that depression is not a cause for fibromyalgia, but due to chronic pain and sleep disorders often associated with the disease, depression and anxiety are often known to occur in patients. Because depression symptoms may actually worsen symptoms of fibromyalgia, patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia are often treated for depression as well.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include intense muscle pain that may change location and grew worse from day to day, as well as extremely tender and painful points on the body. Sensitivity to physical and emotional pain may be a factor, but how do you treat such intense pain when it’s difficult to determine the root of it?
Because fibromyalgia is so difficult to diagnose, many patients live with constant pain and agony for months or even years before seeking treatment. In relation to the difficulty diagnosing fibromyalgia, some doctors may not feel comfortable offering medical treatment or advice.
If you experience chronic muscle pain and tenderness, disturbed sleep and general fatigue and joint and muscle pain and stiffness that doesn’t improve with stretching and exercise for six weeks or more, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. If your doctor does not feel comfortable diagnosing you, ask for advice or recommendation to a rheumatologist in your area. Rheumatologists have more experience with fibromyalgia than family practitioners, and one may be able to accurately diagnose you and connect you with a pain management specialist.
Assembling a team of medical professionals who specialize in pain management and physical therapy options may provide some relief, but you need to make sure the experts are on your side. Many doctors may not take symptoms of fibromyalgia seriously, which could lead to further depression, fatigue and pain. If you are worried your current doctor is not taking your symptoms seriously, or providing you with the best treatment options available, start looking for a new doctor.
Doctors believe that despite the differences among patients when it comes to symptoms and triggers, the foods you eat do play a significant role in how you feel on a day to day basis. Along with adequate medical support and treatment, there are things you can do yourself to help improve your pain symptoms. Everyone’s symptoms and triggers are different, so keeping a fibromyalgia journal may help you determine certain foods and activities that provoke your symptoms. Learning about these triggers can help you formulate a fibromyalgia diet and exercise program specifically designed for you and your symptoms.
Experts at WebMD put together a list of seven foods you should avoid if you have fibromyalgia:
· Aspartame and foods sweetened with aspartame can actually stimulate a pain receptor in your brain, turning your pain symptoms into chronic agony.
· Foods containing MSG and nitrate preservatives can intensify your pain symptoms.
· Simple carbohydrates and sugars like those found in sugary snacks, cakes and white bread can have a significant impact on your pain symptoms. Not only is there the potential for weight loss, but could e4ven out your blood sugar and relieve fatigue and pain symptoms.
· Many fibromyalgia sufferers rely on caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and cola to make them feel awake. The stimulants in caffeine can actually backfire, making you feel more tired.
· Gluten products and yeast can also worsen symptoms, creating both fatigue and unwanted stomach problems, especially if you have undiagnosed gluten intolerance.
· Dairy products, especially milk, can stimulate and worsen symptoms, but because of the bone deterioration that may occur over time, experts do recommend having a glass of milk for the calcium if your body craves it.
· Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, as well as the thousands of other plant species that fall under the “nightshade” category can actually trigger flares. Avoiding them could significantly reduce your symptoms.
When you take a look at that list, it seems like many food favorites are a no no, and while that may be true, there are alternatives you can turn to that taste just as good and won’t cause you pain and fatigue. Approaching diet from a heart-health standpoint—ie., whole grains, fruits and vegetables and low fat –your overall body health will improve and limit some of the other ailments that can occur as a result of fatigue.
Currently, doctors prescribe medications like Cymbalt and Lyrica to help ease sleeplessness and improve symptoms. These medications may not work for everyone, but when you’re in constant, agonizing pain, it’s definitely worth a shot. You should also be careful of pain medications. Many doctors may prescribe addictive pain medications that your body will build a tolerance to over time, creating a need for dangerous, higher dosage, and eventual immunity to the pain-reducing effects.
Exercise is another must, though for some patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the pain may make it difficult to endure. Start out slowly, walking a short distance every day to exercise your muscles, and try to increase your tolerance. Though it may seem painful at first, exercise has been known to stimulate pain-reducing chemicals like serotonin, and over time you may see a vast improvement in your pain symptoms and overall health.
Fibromyalgia is not an easy disease to cope with. There is no cure at this time, and doctors still work frantically to determine its causes and triggers. In order to get through each and every day, you need a strong support system, including doctors who take you seriously and want to help you feel better. Taking the time and effort to discover your own personal triggers so you can avoid them, as well as incorporating regular exercise may help improve your symptoms, and when you’re in pain, every effort counts.