Fibromyalgia, Fatigue, and You

One of the more elusive causes of fatigue is a condition known as fibromyalgia. Many people have heard the term, but most people are unaware of what it is or how it can cause extreme exhaustion.

If your fatigue seems to be a condition that defies the doctors’ best explanation, you may feel at a loss to understand what it happening to your body. Well, if that exhaustion is accompanied by ongoing pain throughout your body, there’s a good chance that you might be one of the more than three hundred million people on the planet who suffer from fibromyalgia.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a medical disorder that affects the muscles and skeleton. Patients who suffer its effects experience pain throughout much of their body, as well as sleep disruptions, mood swings, memory, and high levels of fatigue. There is research suggesting that the problem may have its origins in the way patients with fibromyalgia process pain signals, but the exact cause of the disorder remains an unknown.

What is known is that more than nine of every ten fibromyalgia sufferers are women, and that five percent of the world’s population is believed to be affected by this disorder. It is a problem that seems to afflict people during the middle part of their lives, with most patients ranging in age from their early thirties to their sixties. In addition, there does appear to be a link between fibromyalgia and certain traumas and infections, as well as a possible genetic link within families.

Do You Have Fibromyalgia?

There are five main symptoms that can indicate this disorder. Are you experiencing them?

Pain in every area of the body – including both legs and both arms, as well as the torso. Pain is also typically present in particular points of the body such as the upper back, the area below the neck, around the shoulder blades, and near the main joints.

Fibro fog – which disrupts focus and concentration.

Headaches, cramps, and depression.

Fatigue. This is usually the severe type of fatigue common for those who sleep all night and wake up more exhausted than the night before.

Sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and insomnia

How Does Fibromyalgia Cause Fatigue?

There are a number of reasons why fibromyalgia results in fatigue. Some of the most obvious of those reasons are related to the symptoms of the condition. For example, sleep disruptions due to insomnia or sleep apnea are going to affect the quality of any rest and lead to tiredness. Over time, that leads to exhaustion. Depression, headaches, and other pain also wear on the body and reduce its ability to respond to stress over time.

The sympathetic nerve system has a role to play in this fatigue too. The overall stress response to pain is little different than that used to deal with impending danger. Hormones rage during such times, and those hormones have a devastating effect on the body when left unchecked. An overactive stress response almost always leads to severe fatigue.

Treatment to Relieve the Fatigue

First of all, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. No one wants to hear or read that, but it’s true. That does not, however, mean that you are doomed to a life of misery if you suffer from this disorder. There are treatments and lifestyle changes that can relieve your symptoms. So while you cannot completely eradicate the condition, you can at least gain a return to normal life.

Just as there is no cure for the condition, there is also no lab test that can declare with certainty that you suffer from the ailment. Doctors do typically employ a battery of lab tests, taking blood samples, gauging thyroid activity, and checking other key systems – but those tests are conducted merely to rule out other possible medical conditions. The best measure for the presence of this disorder is the existence of whole body pain that last for three months or longer, and that has no other medical cause.

Medications Can Relieve Pain

Medications are often effective for pain reduction, as well as helping patients to sleep. These can range from pain relievers to a variety of different antidepressants. Anti-seizure medications are also commonly employed – the type used to manage conditions such as epilepsy. Drugs such as Neurontin and Lyrica are also effective, with the latter receiving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s stamp of approval for the treatment of fibromyalgia.

Lifestyle Changes

On the lifestyle front, there is much that can be done to manage the condition.

  • For most patients, stress reduction is the key to finding relief. Fibromyalgia patients simply cannot place unreasonable demands on their bodies or time, and should not allow others to do so either. You’ll need plenty of rest, and should develop a habit of engaging in calming exercises such as deep breathing.
  • Diet is important, as good health can help you to avoid many of the stressful situations that can tax your stress response and exacerbate your symptoms. Eat whole foods, limit caffeine intake, and try to avoid alcohol and drugs of any kind.
  • Exercise. It will hurt when you first begin an exercise program, but your body can adjust to the new activity, and symptoms will decrease over time as you become a little more active. Try to avoid strenuous activities, however. Gentle exercises such as yoga, low-impact aerobics, and walking or swimming are ideal and present little harmful impact to the body.
  • Commit to sleep! The best way to fight fatigue is also the most obvious. Develop a plan to go to bed at the same time every night, and stick to it. Remove everything in your bedroom that is not necessary for sleep - including televisions, musical devices, and cell phones. Make it a place where rest can actually be achieved!

The fact is that you don’t have to suffer the ravages of fibromyalgia. Once its presence is identified and you actually understand why you are so fatigued, you can work with your physician to determine the right course of treatment to manage the condition. It may take time to regain some semblance of normalcy, but it’s a goal that can be achieved with perseverance!

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