By Sue Ingebretson
For those of us with fibromyalgia and other related chronic health challenges, the symptoms we experience run the gamut. From annoying facial tics to whole body pain, it’s hard to pin down where one symptom ends and another begins.
Here’s one common tendency among fibrofolk:
We like to look at symptoms lists.
We want to know, “is it just me” or do others share the same symptoms that I have? We want to feel validated for belonging to this club – even though it’s a strange and unintentional one. Or, if our symptoms don’t match, we want to know if it’s something we should go have checked out.
I remember discovering (and relishing, if truth be told) a massive list of fibromyalgia symptoms when I was searching for answers. My symptoms at the time were at their peak. Reviewing that list made me feel like I wasn’t nuts (or at least a little bit less so). In fact, the kookiest item on that list grabbed my attention the most. It read — inability to wear barrettes or a headband.
I wanted to shout, “That’s me!”
In the 90s everyone was wearing barrettes, headbands, and sun visors. I could tolerate a couple of bobby pins, but anything else clipped or clamped to my head was out. They just gave me a dull, pinching, and lingering headache.
And, the headache didn’t go away when the item was removed. I remember explaining this and something else to another team mom at my daughter’s track meet. I shared that even after wearing a sun visor for a short time, after I took it off, it still felt as if I were wearing it. I could still feel the pressure.
I said, “You know what I mean?”
Her blank stare said far more than words. She had absolutely no idea what I was talking about and didn’t relate at all. I felt like an oddball.
We simply want to belong
It’s human nature to want to relate to others and feel that they relate to us. We want to know that someone out there “gets” us and knows what we’re going through. That’s why there are fibromyalgia support groups, online forums, Facebook pages, books, magazines, newsletters, podcasts, seminars, and more. We’re attracted to anything that makes us feel as if we belong.
If there’s any collection of symptoms that most of us with fibromyalgia understand, it’s our tendency toward hyper-sensitivity. We’re super-sensitive to sights (lights), sounds, smells, foods, chemicals (airborne, dietary, topical), touch, the stressful energy surrounding others, and more.
Are you a super-sensitive soul?
Where does this sensitivity come from? Is it something we simply expect as part of our fibromyalgia diagnosis?
The systemic connection
The sensitivities we experience are part of systemic dysfunction. We experience imbalances in multiple systems of the body. For example, the following body systems are affected in different ways:
- Digestive system
- Respiratory system
- Circulatory system
- Muscular system
- Reproductive system
- Endocrine system
- Cardiovascular system
- Urinary system
- Lymphatic system
- Nervous system
If I were to ask you what system dysfunction is most commonly linked to fibromyalgia, you’d likely start with the digestive and muscular systems. Pain and discomfort in these areas are pretty easy to identify.
But what about odd symptoms that don’t seem to relate?
One that comes to mind is the topic of an exaggerated startle reflex. A while ago, I blogged about this in my article, “The Startling Truth About Being Startled” and was amazed at the wide response. Readers were shocked, surprised, grateful, and even relieved to find that they were not alone.
What body system relates to feeling nervous, antsy, and feeling as if we could jump out of our skin when startled?
The endocrine system
The endocrine system may not be as familiar as some of the other body systems, but when we learn that its primary function is to regulate hormones, the correlation becomes clearer.
Hormonal shifts are linked to mood, sleep, concentration, body temperature regulation and much more. Part of the endocrine system includes the adrenal glands which are responsible for body functions related to heightened awareness. Dysfunction of the adrenal system is linked to a myriad of symptoms – including an exaggerated startle reflex.
For your viewing pleasure, I put together a comprehensive catalog of symptoms for easy reference. It turned out to be quite a checklist when I started digging.
77 Symptoms of Adrenal Dysfunction (in no particular order)(1-6):
- Unrestorative sleep (feeling as if you hadn’t slept, even if you did)
- Intolerant to stress
- Food cravings (sweets and/or salty)
- Shifts in weight
- Inability to lose weight (if overweight)
- Blood pressure imbalance (either too high or too low)
- Cognitive dysfunction (fibrofog)
- Reduced ability to cope
- Feelings of constant overwhelm
- Frequent infections (colds, flu, etc.)
- Reduced sex drive
- Increased PMS symptoms
- Inability to either fall or stay asleep
- Lack of stamina and/or endurance
- Lack of get up and go
- Energy bursts — all or nothing (rarely all/mostly nothing)
- Feeling anxious or short-fused (as in, “You’re on my last nerve!”)
- Autoimmune disorders
- Increased allergies and/or asthma
- Issues with memory / recall
- Lightheaded when standing from a seating or reclined position
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Skin issues (any of these – dry skin, rashes, hives, psoriasis, etc.)
- Frequent mouth sores
- Fibrous breast tissue
- Panic attacks
- Adrenaline rushes
- Poor metabolism (especially of simple carbohydrates)
- Hair loss or thinning
- Sensitivity to wireless connections, electric magnetic fields, etc.
- Food sensitivities
- Facial tics
- OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder
- Chemical sensitivities (i.e., to paint, cleaners, detergents, scented items, etc.)
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Frequent urination and / or thirst
- Depression / sadness
- Fatigued in the late afternoon (possible burst of energy in the evening)
- Dependence on coffee, tea, energy drinks (caffeine or stimulants)
- Increased abdominal fat
- Inability to regulate body temperature (feel too cold, too hot)
- Temperature intolerance (especially to heat)
- Exercise worsens symptoms (slow recovery after exercise)
- Early menopause
- Premature aging
- Low back pain (other than from an injury)
- Cold hands/feet
- Diminished ability to focus
- Heavy feeling in the hands, arms, or legs
- IBS – irritable bowel syndrome
- Numbness in the extremities / poor circulation
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Tenseness / inability to relax
- Fibromyalgia (unchanged after basic treatments)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (unchanged after basic treatments)
- Grave’s disease
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Exaggerated startle reflex
- Breast cancers due to estrogen dominance
- Swelling / inflammation
- Varicose veins
- Hyperpigmentation (bronzing or brown patches on skin)
- Pale lips (little to no color)
- Hyper-sensitivity to bright and/or flashing lights
- Hyper-sensitivity to loud or intermittent / irritating sounds
- Hyper-sensitivity to touch and pressure on the skin
- Hyper-sensitivity to smells and odors (artificial / synthetic scents in particular)
Did you see yourself in any of these symptoms? I’m sure that many of them struck a chord … possibly more than you’d like.
One main theme often heard when referring to adrenal dysfunction is that it leaves us feeling Tired But Wired.
Is that you?
Knowing WHY is key
Adrenal fatigue isn’t a new topic. You may have heard it referred to as adrenal exhaustion, adrenal burnout, or adrenal insufficiency.(7) There are differences in the terms and meanings, but for the purposes of this article, we’re looking at adrenal dysfunction in the general sense.
You’re also likely to be familiar with the concept that adrenal issues are a fundamental root problem for those of us with fibromyalgia. The magnitude and impact of these issues vary, but the underlying problem stems from the same place.
That’s helpful to know.
Discovering the root origins of our health challenges is always a worthwhile endeavor. For starters, understanding the origins provides us with two key points:
It gives us the comfort and awareness that our symptoms are initiated from systemic imbalances.
Once we become aware of this connection, we have a better guideline of where to look for solutions and remedies.
Don’t underestimate the value of these points. If we feel that our symptoms are part of who we are – rather than part of a systemic imbalance – then we’re left feeling as if we’re defective or “broken” in some way.
There’s a BIG difference between believing a symptom is some sort of personality or character flaw and understanding that symptom’s role in our overall body’s functions.
part of what we experience
– NOT who we are –
we’re able to move forward in our healing journey.
So, now what?
The good news is that the fundamental approaches to dealing with adrenal dysfunction aren’t startling at all. In fact, they’re very familiar.
This is for good reason.
Restoring balance to the body, in general, is where all healing begins. Whether we’re looking to restore the adrenal system (or any other system of the body), the results also affect fibromyalgia symptoms.
That’s why you’ll always hear these basic recommendations when looking to find healing solutions for fibromyalgia:
- Detoxification (body movement)
- Stress management
Additionally, you may wish to see physicians or naturopaths who specialize in adrenal health concerns. They may suggest protocols and supplements that can help to speed up the slow and steady process of healing from the inside out.
It’s helpful to begin fueling the body with the nutrition it needs to start the healing process. For tips on how to create your own healthy nutrition plan, this ProHealth article provides some great resources: "The Fibromyalgia Diet: HELP! I Don't Know What to Eat.”
To help your body detoxify through gentle movement, walking, stretching, and deep breathing can all prove helpful.(6) It’s important to note that other detoxification protocols such as juice fasts, short-term medical food diets, and other food restrictions should be reviewed by a trusted medical professional before attempting.
The exciting thing about body movement is that it does double duty. It helps the body detoxify and restore balance as well as provide powerful stress-relieving benefits. In addition, prayer, meditation, crafting, enjoying the company of loved ones, restorative yoga, tai chi, dancing, hiking in nature, and a multitude of other soul-enriching activities can help.
Here are a couple of other additional resources:
Check out this article, “3 Steps to Heal Adrenal Fatigue,” as it provides a useful overview of this process. It covers nutritional suggestions, stress management suggestions, as well as a list of supplements you may wish to try.
This article digs a bit deeper into the “Overlooked Causes of Adrenal Fatigue.”
The roadmap to success
Our symptoms provide us with a roadmap marked with clues. Healing the adrenal system is definitely not easy and there’s no quick fix. However, having an idea of where to start can put us on the right track.
What are your symptoms telling you? Are you ready to start your own healing journey and follow the clues?
1. Lam, M. “75 Signs, Symptoms and Alerts of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.” DrLam.com. Retrieved 9/11/15.
2. “What Are the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?” The Adrenal Fatigue Solution. Retrieved 9/11/15.
3. Donovan, P. “18 Overlooked Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue.” Natural News. 12/02/08.
4. Sarah. “6 Little Known Signs of Adrenal Fatigue.” The Healthy Home Economist. Retrieved 9/11/15.
5. “Do You Have These 17 Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms?” AdrenalFatigueRecovery.com. Retrieved 9/11/15.
6. Lane, P. “Feeling Burnt Out? The Adrenal Fatigue Link.” Believe Midwifery Services. 12/08/13.
7. “Myth vs. Fact: Adrenal Fatigue.” Hormone Health Network. Retrieved 9/11/15.
8. Schuette, K. “Reviving Health Through Gentle Detoxification.” The Weston A. Price Foundation. 7/1/15.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
Would you like to find out more about the effects of STRESS on your body? Download Sue's free Is Stress Making You Sick? guide and discover your own Stress Profile by taking the surveys provided in this detailed 23-page report.