fibro (connective tissue) – myo (muscle) – algia (pain)
It is estimated that approximately 5 million people are suffering with fibromyalgia; 80% to 90% of those affected are female.
However the real number of cases is probably much higher due to misdiagnosis.
Fibromyalgia is a label for chronic pain, fatigue, mental fog and host of other symptoms including:
- Chronic Fatigue
- Chemical/food allergies
- Menstrual pain
- Dizziness/loss of balance
- Memory/concentration loss
- Irritable bowel syndrome (diarrhoea, constipation)
- Sensitivity to dairy
- Skin sensitivities
- Restless legs syndrome
- Extreme jaw pain
- Sleep apnea
- Morning stiffness
A unique and distinctive feature of fibromyalgia is abnormal tenderness located at specific points across the body. At least 11 muscles are required to be tender to the touch for fibromyalgia to be diagnosed by a GP.
What causes fibromyalgia?
The root cause is currently unknown and many of the symptoms overlap with other conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Osteoarthritis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, making it very difficult to diagnose.
In some cases, it has even been misdiagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or Parkinson’s disease.
The most common misdiagnosis is ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ where GP’s require just four symptoms; headaches, memory/concentration loss, muscle/joint pain, and poor sleep/fatigue.
Some physicians suggest the condition is psycho-symptomatic. This is an emotive phrase that is prone to misunderstanding leaving patients feeling unheard, lost and confused. The term ‘psycho-symptomatic’ means ‘body and mind’ but can often be interpreted as ‘all in the mind’ or a hypochondriac ‘imaginary illness’.
The truth is, there is a grey area amongst medical experts as to whether this is a nervous system issue or a muscle issue which results in fibromyalgia patients being passed between Rheumatologists and Neurologists.
There’s lots of research that actually suggests that the most likely cause is ‘chemical imbalances’ which affects BOTH.
Let us explain…
Sufferers of fibromyalgia have been found to have low levels of the hormones Serotonin, Noradrenalin and Dopamine in their brains.
These hormones play a key role in processing pain messages sent by the nervous system.
Other neurotransmitters that are involved in signal transmitting are Melatonin, (affecting sleep), and Substance P which increases with pain.
When Serotonin is low, Substance P tends to be high.
When abnormalities occur within these transmitters, this causes the body to become over sensitive and the pain threshold is significantly lowered causing central sensitization.
Substance P increases, and an individual with fibromyalgia may have up to 3 times the normal levels within their spinal fluid.
Those with fibromyalgia are also found to have lower levels of Cortisol in their urine. This affects the patient’s ability to cope with stress, physically and emotionally and also affects energy and memory.
Low IGF-1, (a hormone responsible for the growth of muscle and bones), can cause symptoms such as intolerance to cold temperature, brain fog, weak muscles and low energy levels.
Research has also suggested that genetics and environmental factors may play a role in fibromyalgia, and if this is the case, it could explain why some people develop this condition after a physical or emotional trigger or trauma.
Possible triggers would include; death of a loved one, an accident, giving birth, an injury, infection, abuse, or even a broken heart.
More about misdiagnosis:
There are some functional issues that present similar symptoms to fibromyalgia that can be overlooked. Functional issues that look like fibromyalgia are:
- Thyroid Disorders: 90% of diagnosed fibromyalgia patients have some form of thyroid disease
- Effects of Stress on the Adrenal Glands: Which result in low cortisol and high adrenalin
- Chemical and Food Sensitivities: Chemical dysfunction affects numerous processes in many systems of the body, and affects the central nervous system.
- Gastrointestinal problems: 49% of patients with fibromyalgia suffer with GI problems
- Gluten Sensitivity/Celiac Disease: Even if Celiac Disease has been ruled out, non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be an underlying treatable cause of fibromyalgia syndrome
- Nutritional Deficiencies: Addressing nutritional deficiencies is often successful in supporting energy levels and reducing stress on the body.
- Vitamin D Deficiency: Studies have found that there is an association between chronic widespread pain and vitamin D status in women
What treatment is available?
There are currently no proven treatments available from a GP for fibromyalgia. You may however be prescribed one or more of the following:
- Analgesics such as Ibuprofen
- Opioids such as Codeine and Tramadol
- Anti-depressants such as Fluoxetine or Amitriptyline
- Anti-convulsants such as Pregabalin or Gabapentin
- Sleeping tablets such as Diazepam
Several unwanted side effect symptoms occur as a result of the drugs listed above, many of these overlap with symptoms of fibromyalgia. Masking symptoms with medication can prevent the root cause from being identified.
How can a Nutritional Therapist help?
There is no quick fix or single treatment for fibromyalgia.
In most cases, a person with fibromyalgia is dealing with a combination of problems requiring a combination of solutions.
A Nutritional Therapist will focus on ruling out underlying conditions and identifying nutrient deficiencies that can be found through testing.
Supporting pain reduction with a pain management protocol focuses on reducing inflammation, reducing toxicity and addressing any nutrient deficiencies found.
- Rule out underlying conditions/issues through functional testing
– Celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity
– Abnormal Thyroid function
– Abnormal Adrenal function
- Identify any nutrient deficiencies through testing
- Reduce inflammation through diet and supplements
- Reduce stress and anxiety through blood sugar management, lifestyle changes, referrals for CBT and counselling
- Improve sleep through nutrition, supplements, and bedtime routine
- Improve energy levels through supplements and food
- Support pain relief through light exercise and referrals to other specialist therapies where appropriate
If you are a fibromyalgia sufferer looking for answers and would benefit from personalised support, please get in touch.