September 2007

Fibromyalgia has been studied since the 1800s under different names, including muscular rheumatism and fibrositis. It was first recognized as an illness and cause of disability by the American Medical Association in 1987. Since then, it has received wide spread public recognition. Fibromyalgia seems to effect a greater percentage of women than men. While people of all ages can get fibromyalgia, the it seems to effect more people between 40 – 60 years of age.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia are fairly consistent: Chronic muscle aches that can feel like the flu, moderate to severe fatigue, nerve pain, and sleep disturbances are the most common complaints. Other conditions that may also be associated with fibromyalgia include Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chronic bladder conditions, headaches, hypoglycemia, and temporomandibular joint syndrome or TMJ for short. Not all people experience the same symptoms.

The exact cause(s) of fibromyalgia are still being investigated. Many factors may trigger fibromyalgia symptoms including: chronic stress, infection (viral or bacterial), genetic abnormalities, excessive physical exertion, long term sleep disturbances, changes in humidity and barometric pressure, or the development of another disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Recently, researchers have identified mutations of 6 genes that are associated with fibromyalgia. While it will be some time until the specific gene pattern is established, research continues.

There is no universally accepted cure for this disorder. However, treatment options are available and range from prescription medication to complementary and alternative therapies.

Let’s examine a few of the treatment options for fibromyalgia.

Gentle exercise (warm water therapy) and stretching to ease muscle stiffness;

Investigate stress management and self-management techniques that include progressive relaxation techniques and biofeedback;

Think about therapeutic massage – be sure to tell the technician about your symptoms prior to treatment;

Apply heat to painful areas but be cautious and don’t burn yourself. If you have access to a hot tub, that may be a better way to apply heat to all muscles at once. Soak for 15-20 minutes per day;

Sleep, sleep, sleep – your body requires deep level sleep for many body functions and repair;

Don’t be afraid to try medications that your physician prescribes. They may include sleep aids, antidepressants, pain relievers and other medications either alone or in combination therapy.

Diet is critical to the management of fibromyalgia:

Eat a healthy Mediterranean diet that is full of anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3 fatty acids from fish and walnuts, monounsaturated fats like olive oil, fresh vegetables, and fruits including blueberries and strawberries.

Avoid foods known to trigger inflammation in some people like the lactose in dairy and gluten from wheat.

Avoid refined and highly processed foods that are high in sugar and artificial ingredients.

Drink enough fluids. The amount you drink should equal one-half your body weight in ounces. Most fluids should be purified water.

Have your blood sugar tested. If higher than desirable, learn to manage blood sugar through diet and exercise;

Some dietary supplements may be beneficial for fibromyalgia.

B vitamins including vitamin B12 and folic acid

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish or flaxseed oil

Coenzyme Q10

Magnesium combined with malic acid may help muscle pain

Passionflower, calcium, valerian, and melatonin can all help with sleep

Ginkgo biloba can increase blood flow to muscles

There is no known way to prevent fibromyalgia, but remaining as healthy as possible is a good start. Don’t ignore symptoms and give yourself a break. Learning to conserve energy and minimize pain are integral parts of living with fibromyalgia.
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