Fibromyalgia affects up to four million adults in the U.S. alone. Unfortunately, fibromyalgia has no cure, and those who suffer from this chronic condition are only offered treatments that work to reduce symptoms to improve their quality of life.
As researchers continue to study this perplexing condition, they discover new connections between fibromyalgia and the immune system.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that healthcare providers still struggle to understand. Symptoms of fibromyalgia are similar to many other illnesses and include:
Muscle and bone pain
Sensitivity and tenderness
There are no tests to diagnose fibromyalgia definitively, so the condition is often misdiagnosed.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
While the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, researchers are getting closer to understanding the condition through its connection to the immune system.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, both autoimmune diseases, are more likely to have fibromyalgia. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body mistakenly unleashes its immune response against the healthy cells of organs and tissues.
Fibromyalgia can occur in conjunction with other autoimmune diseases. Additionally, fibromyalgia symptoms like fatigue and brain fog often overlap with autoimmune disorders.
These factors led researchers to theorize that fibromyalgia may be an autoimmune disorder, even though it doesn’t cause inflammation, a common symptom of autoimmune diseases.
In a recent study, mice injected with auto-antibodies from people with fibromyalgia began to experience fibromyalgia-like symptoms. This new development may lead to new tests to diagnose fibromyalgia and new treatments for those suffering from the condition.
Living with Fibromyalgia
Patients with fibromyalgia suffer from the pain, fatigue, and other symptoms associated with the condition, in addition to common social misconceptions. While fibromyalgia doesn’t have a cure, symptoms are often well-managed through diet and exercise, medications, alternative therapies, and stress relief.
Patients are exploring regenerative medicine, also known as stem cell therapy, to help manage their symptoms experienced with fibromyalgia or an autoimmune condition. Stem cells are the building blocks and, specifically, mesenchymal stem cells have the regenerative properties to differentiate into any cell type while also addressing pain and inflammation within the body.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition which causes widespread pain and tenderness either over the entire body or in a migratory pattern. It affects roughly 2 million Americans, and with an 8 to 2 ratio, it is more common in women than men. People of all ages suffer from fibromyalgia, and it can even occur in children.
While symptoms vary from one person to the next, the pain associated with fibromyalgia tends to wax and wane. There is no cure for the condition, but it can be managed through both non-drug therapies and medication. Another way to minimize the impact of the disease is to avoid known triggers. Experts, like those from the American College of Rheumatology, suspect fibromyalgia could be linked with the nervous system. The disease is also seen often in individuals with other long-term illnesses, as well as sleep conditions. With these factors in mind, here are five steps those with fibromyalgia may find helpful in reducing their number of flare-ups.
Avoid Physical/Psychological Stressors
Because fibromyalgia is suspected to be linked to the nervous system, it’s possible that both physical and psychological stress could intensify discomfort. High-intensity exercise aggravates pain in many individuals, while stressful events can also exacerbate symptoms. Stick to moderate or low-intensity activity and avoid known stressful situations whenever possible. For those that can’t be avoided, consider adopting a healthy coping mechanism, such as meditative breathing, to keep stress levels as low as possible.
Reduce or Eliminate MSG in Daily Diet:
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common ingredient found in many foods throughout the U.S. It is the salt of glutamic acid, which is found naturally in mushrooms, cheese, grapes, and tomatoes. The ingredient is also often added to processed foods, including canned vegetables and soups and frozen meals, to enhance flavor. Researchers believe the additive activates neurons which increase sensitivity to pain in fibromyalgia patients. This idea is backed by a study in which patients had complete or near complete resolution of symptoms after eliminating the ingredient from their diets.
Improve Irregular Sleep Patterns
The relationship between sleep and fibromyalgia is a complicated one: while irregular sleep can lead to flare-ups, fibromyalgia pain often disrupts sleep. To further complicate matters, people with fibromyalgia often suffer from other forms of disordered sleep, such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. While sleep problems can be challenging to resolve, breaking this cycle is one change that could help individuals find relief. Maintaining as regular a sleep schedule as possible is recommended, as napping could actually wind up increasing symptom severity. Fibromyalgia patients may also wish to try cognitive behavioral therapy, which is one solution that appears to be effective for achieving better sleep.
Avoid Long Periods of Sitting
Many professionals are accustomed to long periods of sitting throughout the work day. During these bouts, circulation may decrease, which could compound symptoms of fibromyalgia. Increased muscle stiffness and decreased circulation are just two common side effects of hours spent sedentary. Poor posture can cause further damage by cutting off the supply of oxygen the different systems of the body receives. To negate the effects of sitting, it may be worthwhile to consider an ergonomic chair to facilitate better posture. Periodic breaks –short walks for every hour of work, or 20 seconds of standing for every 20 minutes of sitting – could also support better circulation.
Accommodate for Handling Weather Fluctuations
Up to 92% of fibromyalgia patients believe worsening symptoms are a result of weather changes. Unfortunately, seasonal changes and abrupt fluctuations in temperature cannot be avoided altogether. With that said, it may be possible to accommodate these changes to reduce the odds of a flare-up. Staying hydrated in extreme levels of heat and humidity could help, and dressing in layers during unpredictable times of year may allow individuals to stay comfortable in variable conditions.
While fibromyalgia affects everyone in different ways, pinpointing the known triggers for your flare-ups is one of the most effective ways to control the condition. Actively avoiding these aggravating factors may help patients experience fewer and less intense periods of pain.
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