What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Characterised by widespread chronic pain and a heightened pain response FMS is often accompanied by extreme fatigue and insomnia, as well as brain fog and poor cognition. Many FMS sufferers experience:

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Restless Leg Syndrome

  • IBS and bladder issues

  • Tingling of hands and feet

  • Sensitivity to noise, lights or temperature

  • Morning stiffness

  • Fatigue

Adults with fibromyalgia are more than 3 times more likely to have major depression than non-sufferers.

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How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

It’s estimated that somewhere between 1.8 million and 2.9 million people in the UK have fibromyalgia

Doctors may want to see tenderness to pressure or tender points at a specific number of certain spots before diagnosing fibromyalgia.

A physical exam can be helpful to detect tenderness and to exclude other causes of muscle pain. Widespread body pain is the main feature of fibromyalgia, so health care providers will ask you to describe your pain. This may help tell the difference between fibromyalgia and other diseases with similar symptoms. 

Other conditions which have similar symptoms include:

  • hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland) 
  • polymyalgia rheumatica  

Sometime fibromyalgia is confused with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. But unlike fibromyalgia, these rheumatic diseases cause inflammation in the joints and tissues. Blood tests (see below) can detect the difference. However FMS is often an accompanying issue for sufferers of rheumatic or spinal disorders.

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What causes fibromyalgia?

The causes of fibromyalgia are unclear and may differ. Fibromyalgia is not from an autoimmune, inflammation, joint, or muscle disorder. 

Current research points to the nervous system, particularly the central nervous system. Scientists believe that injury, emotional distress, or viruses that change the way the brain perceives pain, may be causal, and certainly seem to have a triggering factor for FMS.

Abnormally high levels of Substance P in spinal fluid or other neurotransmitters might be a cause, as they transmit and amplify pain signals to and from the brain.

Also research is trying to identify whether there is a gene or genes that make a person more likely to have FMS and the other health problems that can occur with it. Scientists believe that the condition may be due to injury, emotional distress, or viruses that change the way the brain perceives pain, but the exact cause is unclear. People with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and spinal arthritis are more likely to have the illness.

Although Fibromyalgia can affect quality of life, it is still considered medically benign. It does not cause any heart attacks, stroke, cancer, physical deformities, or loss of life. (rheumatology.org)

Conventional Treatment of Fibromyalgia

Conventional Treatment for fibromyalgia aims to ease symptoms and improve quality of life, but there is currently no cure.

Non-medication therapies are the cornerstone of treatment for fibromyalgia. Many people improve with them and never require medications. Moreover, without focusing on sleep hygiene, stress reduction and exercise, it is difficult to improve, even with medication. A GP can though play an important role in treatment and care, as symptoms vary among patients, treatment. So, programmes need to be individualised. When it comes to fibromyalgia medication, there are drugs that may help decrease pain and improve sleep. A specialist may prescribe pain medication or anti-depressants to help treat pain, fatigue, and depression. In addition, a doctor may recommend physical therapy, moist heat, regular aerobic exercise, relaxation, and stress reduction to help you self-manage symptoms.
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There are currently no conventional diagnostic tests to detect fibromyalgia although individuals can be test for inflammation via a blood-based CRP test.

The IBS Clinics (IBSC) approach to Fibromyalgia

Functional medicine seeks to find the root cause of addressing the problem to help restore a person’s health.

The contributing factors to Fibromyalgia are many and varied and may include some or all the following:
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Adrenal Fatigue:
Chronic pain acts as a stressor to the adrenal glands, although not usually the initial stressor that could be any number of things including food intolerances, Candida, mercury toxicity, vitamin deficiencies, or mould toxins.

Candida Overgrowth:
Candida is a fungus or yeast, which when overgrown breaks down the intestinal lining and penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxic by-products into the body which causes brain fog, fatigue, digestive issues, and pain.

Heavy metal toxicity:
Heavy metals such as Mercury and lead (omnipresent in our environment) contribute to our toxic burden and suppress our immune system function.  This can promote inflammation and autoimmunity.

Glutathione deficiency:
Glutathione is a key component of our detoxification system without it we are unable to adequately detoxify, and as oxidative stress occur.  Oxidative stress is increased patients with FM. Furthermore, total antioxidant capacity or antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase are decreased in the plasma of patients with FM.

Antioxidant therapies have proven effective in many pathological processes in which oxidative stress plays an important role both primarily as secondarily. CoQ10, Vitamin E or alpha-tocopherol, vitamin C or ascorbic acid, melatonin, SOD, vitamin A or retinol, glutathione, N-acetylcysteine, etc., are some of the antioxidants used in randomised trials of patients with a variety of diseases including fibromyalgia.

Gluten reactivity:
Gluten is often called “the great masquerader” and as such has been associated with over 50 different diseases. It seems likely that whilst gluten is often considered to cause gut issues it is much more likely to cause neurological issues such as pain, cognitive problems, disrupted sleep, fatigue and depression.

Mould or Mycotoxins:
Mycotoxins are toxic substances produced by toxic moulds.  Whilst 75% of the population can handle such toxins effectively, up to 25% of us carry genetic mutations which affect our ability to clear these toxins from our body.

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and Leaky Gut:
Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine can promote a leaky gut.  Gluten reactions also promote SIBO and a leaky gut, in fact there is an inter-relationship between these conditions and the result is widespread low-grade inflammation in the body.

Over 50% of individuals with a thyroid issue have no idea they have one and 90% of these have hypothyroidism (underactive) thyroid gland.  Your GP will be assessing your thyroid function using a set of standard reference ranges which are very broad, and it is possible that this range, may not be optimal for you.  IBSC nutritionists use functional medicine ranges to assess the thyroid and can help you to optimise your thyroid function.

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Vitamin Deficiencies:
Magnesium, vitamin D and B12 deficiency are common vitamin deficiencies in people with fibromyalgia.  Magnesium especially is often very deficient and quickly helps improve health when levels are increased with the consumption of magnesium rich foods and supplements.

As you can see from the above list, many of these causes are interrelated and often there is no one single root cause to fibromyalgia or any chronic illness.  It is a combination of several or possibly all the above. 

Getting to the root cause can be complex and lengthy process and IBSC are on hand to help you navigate your way through the process of regaining your health.