Fybromyalgia (FMS) was once thought of as a phantom disease. Little was known and many authorities concluded that the condition was more psychological or emotional than a physical syndrome. However, much has changed with this once mysterious condition. Research has revealed that fybromyalgia is not only a diagnosable condition but it is also a syndrome which is very complicated as new research emerges.
Fybromyalgia is a chronic syndrome characterized by widespread muscle pain and fatigue. Those with fybromyalgia have tender points where they experience pain sensitivity. Common tender points are the front of knees, the elbows, the neck, the hip joints, and spine.
According to the American Institute of Rheumatology, fybromyalgia affects 3 to 6 million Americans, of whom 80 to 90% are women. The condition is usually diagnosed during middle life but normally has at least one symptom showing up early in life.
Not a Mental Disease
But is there a psychological tie with fybromyalgia that would differentiate it from other similar conditions? This was the understanding of many experts for a long while. However, a study to verify this thought was conducted using 97 fybromyalgia patients, consisting of 85 women and 12 men. The patients were interviewed about their symptoms, pain severity, treatment strategies, and their total well-being; particularly their emotional health. The results were very interesting but did not up-hold their idea associating increased pain with increased emotional distress. In fact, just the opposite was true. Some patients that had the highest pain levels had the lowest anxiety.
FMS Tender Points
The word fybromyalgia comes from the Latin word for fibrous tissue (fibro) and the Greek words for muscle (myo) and pain (algia). The tender points are 18 locations on the body where a patient with fybromyalgia feels pain when slight pressure is applied. Other chronic and frustrating symptoms include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Morning stiffness
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Painful menstruation cycles
- Numbness or tingling of the extremities
- Sensitivity to temperature
- Restless leg syndrome
- Cognitive and memory problems sometimes referred to as “Fibrofog”
All these symptoms pay a heavy toll on a patient’s physical and mental well-being.
The latest research reveals that fybromyalgia is a result of internal biochemical imbalances that cause physical symptoms like pain, muscle weakness, and mental impairment. Because it is a syndrome rather than a disease, the diagnosis of fybromyalgia cannot be made by studying one set of specific symptoms or laboratory findings. Even though there is very little evidence pointing to psychological issues, practical experience suggest that stress may play a role in the sudden flare-up of symptoms. Some doctors who treat fybromyalgia patients notice a link between stress and an increase in fybromyalgia.
Stress can play a major role in many physical ailments other than fybromyalgia. In a world with stress, something has to give. Usually that is sleep. Of course, fueling the body with junk food, alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods only helps stress the body even further. Some people can get away with this for a time, but most people will pay the price for this type lifestyle. Some pay a severe toll.
One doctor researched fybromyalgia and the other closely related condition, chronic fatigue syndrome. He concluded that the body’s endocrine system may hold the clue to treatment. It is a matter of how the body’s energy is assembled. Fybromyalgia is like the body blowing a fuse. The hypothalamus is the body’s fuse box. If the demands for living build up to produce stress that stress eventually causes the hypothalamus to shut down. Because the circuit is overtaxed and the body’s fuse is blown, the body simply cannot generate enough energy. This, in turn, causes muscles to cease from functioning in a shortened position, causing pain all over the body and general weakness and fatigue.
This physician came up with a four prong method to repair the body’s blown fuse and turn the body’s current back on:
- Restoration of sleep: a minimum of eight to nine hours at night using appropriate medications as needed
- Restoration of a normal hormone balance, including thyroid, adrenal, and reproductive hormones
- Appropriate treatment of infections that may be present as a consequence of the body’s depleted immune function
- Nutritional support, especially in the B complex vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and malic acid.
There is an acronym he uses for his therapy. He calls it SHIN; S for sleep, H for hormones, I for infection control, and N for nutrition. He urges that these four must be implemented together in order to achieve real effectiveness.
There is hope for those who have fybromyalgia. The attitudes concerning this syndrome have changed over the years and research is revealing new insights into treatment. Patients that make a practice of good lifestyle habits along with good medical advice will gain the most benefits from these innovative treatments.