Fibromyalgia: It’s Not in Your Head
Have you ever been told there is no physical explanation for your body aches, pains, and sensitivity? Lots of people who are told this are given a diagnosis of “fibromyalgia” but no real explanation of what that means. Over the years the diagnosis of fibromyalgia has been used by physicians who couldn’t figure out what was wrong with someone. This also applied to the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. After extensive research, these diagnoses were able to be studied and define leading to the conclusion that fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are the same disease process. If a doctor takes a functional medicine approach to these symptoms (most don’t) you will always find an underlying issue contributing to the problem.
First, let’s review some information about fibromyalgia. It is usually classified among the rheumatoid diseases including arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases. Most are managed by rheumatologists and there is a myriad of drugs used in the rheumatic world. Many of these medications are immunosuppressive and have significant side effects. The cause of fibromyalgia remains unknown.
Fibromyalgia is estimated to affect 4 million Americans and 2/3 of those are women. Hormones are felt to be the reason more women are affected than men. Therefore, being female is a risk factor. Other risk factors include a history of trauma, recurrent injuries, chronic stress/anxiety, a family history of fibromyalgia, neurologic disorders and chronic infections.
Most patients describe fibromyalgia as feeling like extreme pain in muscles accompanied by significant fatigue. Symptoms affect men and women equally but the locations of pain and trigger points are different for each person.
Other symptoms include sleep difficulties, forgetfulness/brain fog, headaches, sensitivity to light/noise/temperature changes, morning joint stiffness, limb numbness, back pain and facial/jaw pain.
Chronic pain syndrome involves pain that is persistent for greater than three months duration and symptomatic fibromyalgia is one of these syndromes. The diagnosis of fibromyalgia is usually one of exclusion after ruling out other causes of chronic pain syndrome.
Treatment is usually aimed at symptomatic improvement. Many approaches involve prescriptions for pain relievers, antidepressants, muscle relaxers and birth control pills for women with menstrual related pain. Psychotherapy, physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture and sleep therapy have been used as well for nonpharmaceutical approaches.
There are researchers working to better understand what underlies fibromyalgia, and some have found a physical link. Here’s what they think might be happening:
- A physical or emotional stressor acts as a triggering event
- The stress response disrupts function in the nerve centers associated with sensation (called the dorsal root ganglia)
- There is heightened transmission of pain to the brain (this is called neuropathic pain)
Basically, scientists are saying that fibromyalgia is triggered by stress, but it has a physical explanation.
Does that ring true to you?
There is one more thing. The mechanisms of fibromyalgia might be more pronounced in women because prolactin, estrogen, and progesterone alter dorsal root ganglia function. These hormones can contribute to abnormal connections between the stress response system and pain pathways. Symptoms that support the hormone hypothesis include primary dysmenorrhea (cramps), significant premenstrual syndrome and lower abdominal pain accompanying back pain.
We see more women than men with fibromyalgia, so these mechanisms appear to play out in real life. Conditions that may seem like “medical mysteries” are perfect for functional and naturopathic medicine because we look beyond the diagnosis to find dysfunction in the body that can be corrected. Correcting chronic inflammation, nutritional abnormalities, vitamin deficiencies and looking for the issues that are unique to you is the approach used to manage frustrating medical issues such as fibromyalgia.
It’s an approach that considers each person as an individual and helps you heal from the inside out. If the traditional fibromyalgia is not working, you owe it to your health to consider If that makes sense to you, or if you have any questions about your unique situation, please reach out and connect. We are here to help!
#fibromyalgiarelief #painsyndromes #womenwithfibromyalgia
We see more women than men with fibromyalgia, so these mechanisms appear to play out in real life. Conditions that may seem like “medical mysteries” are perfect for functional and naturopathic medicine because we look beyond the diagnosis to find dysfunction in the body that can be corrected.
It’s an approach that considers each person as an individual and helps you heal from the inside out. If that makes sense to you, or if you have any questions about your unique situation, please reach out to our office. We are here to help!
#fibromyalgiarelief #painsyndromes #womenwithfibromyalgia #hormonehealth #chronicpainsyndrome
Martínez-Lavín M. Fibromyalgia in women: somatisation or stress-evoked, sex-dimorphic neuropathic pain. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2021; 39: 422-425. [link]