Over 6 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia symptoms, and 90 percent of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. It’s still up for debate why far more women get fibromyalgia than men. Some healthcare professionals claim it’s due to decreased serotonin levels in the brains of women.
Unfortunately, people suffering from fibromyalgia struggle with pain, fatigue, depression and other common fibromyalgia symptoms prior to diagnosis. (1)
Much like other chronic conditions, including adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome and several rheumatoid conditions, there is not an immediate cure to relieve the often debilitating symptoms. In fact, these conditions share many of the same symptoms and, for some individuals, may occur in tandem.
Common Fibromyalgia Symptoms
The severity of fibromyalgia symptoms varies from person to person, and often, symptoms disappear and then return. Fibromyalgia is characterized by long-term and widespread pain in muscles and connective tissues, without any specific cause.
Research has shown that fibromyalgia may actually amplify pain by affecting the way the brain processes pain signals. (2) In addition to pain, common fibromyalgia symptoms include:
- Memory issues
- Sleep disorders
- Cramping in the lower abdomen
- Tender points
- Chronic pain
- Fibro fog
Are these symptoms of fibromyalgia chronic? In many cases, yes. And while the pain associated with fibromyalgia is challenging for many, “fibro fog” and sleep disorders add to this challenging diagnosis. Sleep disorders are common and may include sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. Not getting enough sleep contributes to diminished cognitive functioning, depression and anxiety.
In addition, some patients experience morning stiffness, numbness or tingling in the extremities, as well as a heightened sensitivity to loud noises, bright lights and temperature. (3a) Some patients also experience fibromyalgia with other co-existing conditions including TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction), endometriosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, tension headaches and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
Meanwhile, fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a form of fibromyalgia “where pain and stiffness occurs in muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout the body, accompanied by other generalized symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disruption, mood disorder and cognitive difficulties.” (3b)
Causes of Fibromyalgia Symptoms
It can be difficult to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, as there isn’t a definitive laboratory test. While blood work and other tests may be ordered in order to rule out other conditions, doctors often rely on feedback they receive from the patient.
In general, patients must experience widespread pain or muscle aches that last for at least three months. A physical “tender point” examination may be conducted where the doctor presses 18 specific points to measure pain and tenderness. Tender points include neck, chest, arms, legs near the knee, at the waist and just below the buttocks. (4a)
Some fibromyalgia patients may actually suffer from neuropathy, as a study found that almost half of the patients suffered from small nerve fiber neuropathy. (4b) That is simply nerve pain that is caused by damage to the small nerves which carry pain and other signals from your skin to your brain. Therefore, neuropathic fibromyalgia may be more common than previously known.
While there is neither a definitive nor singular cause for fibromyalgia, it’s been linked to the following (7):
- Allergies to chemicals
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Hormonal imbalances
- Poor digestion
- Candida overgrowth
- Spinal misalignments
- Neurotransmitter deficiencies
Risk factors for fibromyalgia include genetics, being female, and rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. For some individuals, symptoms begin after a significant psychological stress event, infection, surgery or other physical trauma. Others may have no evidence of a triggering event, and the fibromyalgia symptoms have just accumulated over time. (8)
More recently, one 2017 study found that patients with fibromyalgia (FM) have brains with abnormal hypersensitivity, otherwise known as explosive synchronization (ES). Researchers from the University of Michigan and Pohang University of Science reported that the hypersensitivity fibromyalgia patients experience may be a result from the hypersensitive or hyperactive brain networks.
Researchers analyzed the resting state electroencephalogram (EEG) — the test that records electrical signals of the brain — of 10 female fibromyalgia patients to examine well-known ES conditions within functional brain networks. Then, researchers tested whether a brain network model with ES conditions reacted to external disturbances or electrical stimulation. From this research, external disturbances greatly correlate with chronic pain intensity, and the data supports that networks with ES conditions are more sensitive to disturbances compared to brains without ES networks. Furthermore, explosive synchronization may be a mechanism of fibromyalgia brain hypersensitivity, according to the findings of the study. (5) The model of this test and research can assist future treatments of fibromyalgia that could potentially transform fibromyalgia hypersensitivity networks into stable networks using noninvasive brain modulation therapies. (6)
Treating Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Traditional treatment for fibromyalgia includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), anti-seizure drugs, pain relievers and antidepressants. Lyrica (pregabalin) is one of the most common FDA-approved drug treatments for fibromyalgia. These commonly prescribed fibromyalgia medications don’t cure the disease, and taking them can cause potentially serious side effects.
NSAIDS can cause ulcers, bleeding in the stomach or intestines, digestive upset, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and even life-threatening skin reactions and allergic reactions. (9) While inflammation is a problem, there are better natural alternatives.
Side effects of prescription anti-seizure medications include liver failure, kidney stones, ovarian cysts, along with serious drops in white blood cells and number of platelets, aplastic anemia and cognitive function problems. (10)
Prescription antidepressants can cause weight gain, loss of sexual desire, fatigue, insomnia, blurred vision, agitation, irritability and anxiety. (11) Several of these potential side effects are similar to common symptoms of fibromyalgia. Several supplements are available to help relieve depression and anxiety (see below).
Treating fibromyalgia symptoms naturally requires a healthy diet, changes in lifestyle and complementary treatments. Since fibromyalgia can cause chronic pain and fatigue that is similar to arthritis, some experts may advise a fibromyalgia patient to see a rheumatologist. While there isn’t a cure yet, there are natural treatments that can help ease the symptoms and increase the quality of life for fibromyalgia sufferers.
Fibromyalgia Diet & Natural Treatment
Multiple clinical studies show that treating fibromyalgia symptoms requires a multi-pronged approach that includes changes in diet and nutrition. A collaborative study from researchers in Italy have found that fibromyalgia patients can benefit from specific dietary changes and nutritional supplementation.(12)