Knowing many people who live with fibromyalgia, we often talk about the various tricks of the trade – what helps with our multiple, different symptoms. Given that we are each unique, even in our symptoms, it’s not surprising that there are so many answers to the question. Some people report exercise and dietary changes; others, a mixture of supplements, compounds and creams; while others swear by the benefit of a habit, ritual or certain device.
Let’s review the four primary symptoms of fibromyalgia:
Ranging in intensity from mild to profound, the pain of fibromyalgia tends to migrate, affecting different parts of the body at different times. The pain may manifest as an all-over, flu-like aching or a more localized throbbing, burning, stabbing or shooting pain. The pain and stiffness is often worse upon waking in the morning or after sitting / lying in one position for an extended period of time.
The fatigue of fibromyalgia is much more than just being tired from a busy day or a strenuous workout. It is a pervasive, all-encompassing exhaustion that can interfere with even the most basic daily activities.
Most people with fibromyalgia have an associated sleep disorder that makes it difficult for them to get the deep, restorative sleep they need. As a result, they do not wake up feeling rested or refreshed. Studies have documented that the Stage 4 sleep of FM patients is repeatedly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity, limiting the amount of time they spend in deep, restorative sleep.
Often referred to as “fibro-fog,” the cognitive dysfunction associated with fibromyalgia may include forgetfulness, memory lapses, an inability to concentrate, confusion, transposing numbers or words, getting lost in familiar places and difficulty communicating effectively.
While these are the four primary symptoms of fibromyalgia, it is certainly not uncommon for other ailments to tag along, such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic migraines, depression and anxiety, etc.
No wonder it’s difficult to explain, much less treat, this horrible disease.
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My worst symptoms
I find fatigue and sleep disturbances are my worst problems, which then feed into pain and cognitive issues. I also find that when I tell someone that I am fatigued, the response is often “well, you just need to get better sleep. Do you practice good sleep hygiene? Do you go to bed and get up at the same time each day? Do you keep all distractions out of the bedroom (i.e., television, smart phones, etc.)?”
I try to practice good sleep hygiene, and I take supplements and a prescription sleep aid, yet I still struggle to get a good night’s sleep. Plus, I agree that better sleep is important and would help, but the fatigue of fibromyalgia far exceeds the tiredness of a bad night’s sleep.
The one thing that seems to provide me the most relief is exercise, especially exercise in nature. When I can be out hiking on a trail with my sweet husband, the colors, the smells, the sounds all add to the enjoyment of moving. I had surgery six weeks ago and am not yet up to hiking, but I am sure once we can get back to it, my fibro symptoms will lessen.
So what helps?
While there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, there are certainly things we can do to find some relief. ProHealth’s Fibromyalgia Treatment Overview cites medications, alternative and complementary therapies, nutritional supplements, exercise and lifestyle changes for effective management of fibromyalgia.
As you know, ProHealth offers a range of supplements aimed at helping those with chronic illnesses achieve their best results and live a healthy, productive lifestyle. Be sure to check out the Fibromyalgia Support Shop.
This week, we’ll look at some of these options and hope you will let us know what you find most helpful.
Cindy Leyland is ProHealth’s Fibromyalgia Editor. Cindy also serves as the Director of Program Operations at the Center for Practical Bioethics and the PAINS-KC Project Director. She lives in Kansas City with her husband, enjoys hiking, reading, and being Gramma Cindy.