Fibromyalgia – Part 1 – What is it?

Fibromyalgia is an affliction of chronic pain that affects millions of people, most frequently women. Its most common symptoms are nerve pain, extreme fatigue, mood swings and trouble sleeping. These symptoms can also be associated with other disorders, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, myofascial pain syndrome, chemical sensitivities and interstitial cystitis, so it can be difficult to diagnose and treat with some patients.

The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are:

  • Anxiety, mood swings, or nervousness
  • Brain fog or lack of concentration
  • Constipation, nausea and bloating
  • Depression
  • Difficulty falling asleep or sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling pins and needles in hands or feet
  • Frequent headaches
  • Irritability
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle tenderness, soreness, or spasms
  • Painful menstruation
  • Sensitivity to cold

The biggest suspect with a fibromyalgia diagnosis is stress, as stress and hormones are linked to fibromyalgia in most cases. The master gland that controls our hormones is called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sends biochemical messages to the thyroid, adrenal glands, and ovaries (among others) through the pituitary gland, to regulate our metabolic balance, immune system, autonomic nervous system, and more. In turn, our tissues talk back to the hypothalamus by way of chemical messaging. these feedback loops strongly influence the symptoms we see in fibromyalgia.

Other factors in fibromyalgia include:

  • Serotonin and Dopamine imbalances. Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and is necessary for a stable mood and to balance out any excessive excitatory neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitter imbalances can lead to fibromyalgia.
  • Iodine Deficiency. 32 percent of your body’s iodine is stored in muscles and if iodine is insufficient, pain and fibromyalgia can develop.
  • Oxidation Stress. We need oxygen for our cells to produce energy. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals exceed the amounts of antioxidants in your body. This imbalance can promote fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Histamine sensitivity: Allergies developed from an intolerance to histamines are the result of the inflammatory response that they often cause when they signal from the immune system that there is a possible invasion of an unwanted substance in your body. Histamine causes the blood vessels to swell, allowing white blood cells to find and attack the unwanted invaders. This is a natural immune response, but if you can’t break down histamine properly, you have a histamine intolerance that can lead to fibromyalgia.

To make a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, your doctor may rely on your symptoms, a physical examination and your health history. The main clinical diagnostic criteria your doctor may use to make an accurate fibromyalgia diagnosis is an examination of a history of chronic and widespread body pain with the presence of at least 11 of 18 tender points. Pain is considered widespread with pain in both sides of the body and above and below the waist. In addition, skeletal pain in the cervical spine, anterior chest, thoracic spine or low back pain lasting for at least three months are considered.  Once a diagnosis is made, it speeds up the process for patients in learning about their illness and treatment options. In my next blog, I will discuss the various treatments for those diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

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