If you suffer from chronic pain or fibromyalgia you don’t need a doctor to tell you how debilitating it can be. You ache all over, your energy is flat, your mood could be low, and you have trouble sleeping. You could have other aggravating symptoms too.
You’re looking for almost any solution to get relief from your aches, give you a little more energy, and just help you feel a bit better about life.
Doctors can get frustrated trying to treat people with fibromyalgia. But over the past 20 years the medical world has finally come to acknowledge a group of patients who have difficult-to-explain, generalized pain — what’s now called fibromyalgia. And it’s an area that’s actively being researched.
Of course, the drug companies are funding lots of the research, and their focus is finding the next magical drug to reduce the symptoms. Equally importantly, our basic scientific understanding of the condition – and how it can be treated naturally — continues to grow.
Probably no one understands your condition better than you yourself do. But to help you relate your inner experience to current scientific knowledge, I’ve summarized some highlights of the emerging medical consensus about fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
- People with fibromyalgia have widespread pain that just won’t go away. And the pain isn’t conveniently explained by a specific medical condition or injury.
- In addition to pain, there are many other symptoms that can occur – non-restful sleep, low mood, lack of energy, digestive problems, and much more.
- Fibromyalgia isn’t a homogeneous condition – everyone is different.
- The standard definition of fibromyalgia requires that you have tenderness at 11 or more (out of 18) sample points on the body. But we know that this definition is over-simplified and arbitrary. Tenderness varies from day to day and even moment to moment. There’s nothing sacred about the number 11. And there’s a lot more to fibromyalgia than just tender points.
- There are genetic factors that put you at risk of developing fibromyalgia. If you have a genetic predisposition, fibromyalgia can be triggered by a specific event — such as physical trauma, chemical exposure, experience of a traumatic event, extreme emotion, reaction to medication, a viral infection, or other variations.
- Fibromyalgia overlaps with many other syndromes, such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, multiple chemical sensitivities, irritable bowel, interstitial cystitis, post-traumatic stress, depression, sleep disorders, arthritis, and more.
- These conditions are beginning to be understood as examples of CSS (central sensitivity syndrome). That means that fibromyalgia and these related problems involve an altered state of brain processing. The nervous system becomes overly sensitized to pain signals – the pain starts to take on a life of its own independent of any original source.
- What that means is that you can’t point to a specific anatomical spot and say – aha! – there’s the problem. Even though all your body parts seem to be intact, your system isn’t functioning well overall.
Learn more about fibromyalgia and chronic pain in Part 2.
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