FYBROMYALGIA: UNDERSTANDING THE SYNDROME
Understanding fybromyalgia can be difficult for anyone who does not have a medical degree. Since it involves the brain and nervous system, this complex condition can have an impact on every part of the body. If you are trying to understand the condition by its presence in someone you know then you also know how confusing it can be. Many people who see the bizarre collection of fluctuating symptoms that don’t show up in medical tests believe that it is a psychological condition. However, there is now scientific evidence that proves that fybromyalgia is a real physical condition.
On the other hand, going through all the medical jargon can really be of no real benefit to understanding someone with the disease. So, we are just going to try to help you understand and relate to someone who is fighting this condition without all the medical mumbo jumbo.
UNDERSTANDING THE PAIN
To understand what is going on in someone’s brain with fybromyalgia, let’s use an analogy. Imagine you are having a get-together and planned for about 20 guests. You asked 3-4 friends to show up early to help. No one shows up early and 100 guests arrive. You are overwhelmed. That is what is happening with pain signals in someone with fybromyalgia. The cells send too many pain messages (guests), up to five times as many as in a normal person. The result can turn mild pressure or even an itch into pain.
When those pain signals reach the brain, they are processed by a chemical called serotonin. But those with fybromyalgia do not have enough serotonin (friends who didn’t show up to help), leaving the brain overwhelmed. This is why people with fybromyalgia have pain in tissues that show no sign of damage. However, it is not imagined pain; it is misinterpreted sensation that the brain turns into pain. At the same time, other substances in the patient’s brain can amplify a bunch of other signals like light, odors, and noise, further overwhelming the brain. This in turn can lead to confusion, fear, anxiety, and panic attacks.
UNDERSTANDING THE UPS AND DOWNS
Another aspect of this condition that is hard to understand is the fluctuating symptoms. Most chronic illnesses are fairly consistent in their symptoms. Cancer, a virus, or a degenerative disease has symptoms that are regular. However, it is understandably confusing to see someone with fybromyalgia be unable to do something on Friday, and be perfectly able to do it on Sunday.
Another way to look at it is in terms of hormones. Everyone’s hormones fluctuate slightly and even things like blood pressure and weight can fluctuate during a day, week, or month. Every substance in the body works that way, rising and falling depending on different situations.
In the same way, those with fybromyalgia experience abnormal levels of substances and hormones. Normally, these substances should stay within a zone but sometimes one or two are on the outside of the zone. Picture several substances on the outside of the zone and you have the person with fybromyalgia. The more substances out of the zone, the worse they feel.
UNDERSTANDING THE STRESS
Because stress usually makes things worse, many people think that those with fybromyalgia are emotionally incapable of handling stress. The important thing to remember is that we all deal with stress both emotionally and physically. When a stressful situation occurs, the body rushes adrenalin and other hormones into overdrive so that you can cope with the situation. Those with fybromyalgia do not have enough of those hormones which make stress very hard on their body and can trigger symptoms.
Moreover, stress can be more than just emotional. Emotional stress comes from the job, your personal life, or a busy schedule. Physical stress can be just as harmful as emotional stress. Physical stress can come from an illness, injuries, lack of sleep, or nutritional deficiencies.
UNDERSTANDING THE FATIGUE
To understand this concept, think of a time when you were exhausted, not just tired, but truly exhausted. Maybe it was a time when you stayed up all night, or maybe a time when you had to take care of a sick child, or a time when you were really sick yourself. Now imagine feeling like that and having to work, take care of children, cook dinner, clean the house, the list goes on. Of course, one or two good nights of sleep usually takes care of the exhaustion.
However, a person suffering with fybromyalgia doesn’t have that luxury. Sleep disorders are part of the condition so getting a good night’s rest is a rarity. Those with fybromyalgia can have any or all of the following sleep disorders:
- Inability to reach or stay in deep sleep
- Sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome
- Periodic limb movement disorder
UNDERSTANDING THE SYNDROME
Most illnesses affect one part of the body, or one system. With fybromyalgia, the whole body is affected and the bizarre and varied symptoms can throw it into all kinds of disorder. The fact is, no matter how bizarre the symptoms are they are part of a very real physical condition. This disorder can take the most educated, hard-working, dependable individual and rob them of their ability to work, take care of family, exercise, think clearly, or anything else that makes a person feel worthwhile, healthy, and alive.
- It is not a psychological illness.
- It is not a product of laziness.
- It is not complaining and shirking responsibility
- It is not depression
It is the result of widespread dysfunction in the body and brain that is hard to understand, difficult to treat, and, as of now, impossible to cure. The hardest thing for people with fybromyalgia to do is to live with it. Having the support of family and good friends can make that condition easier to endure.