Trying to understand fybromyalgia (FMS) can be difficult. 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. Understanding FMS means trying to understand some of the major symptoms like the pain, the stress, the ups and downs, the fatigue, and the syndrome itself.
UNDERSTANDING THE PAIN
What happens with fybromyalgia is that the cells send too many pain signals to the brain, 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, hence the brain becomes 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 sensations 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 STRESS
We all deal with stress both emotionally and physically. Because stress usually makes things worse, many people think that those with fybromyalgia are emotionally incapable of handling stress. The fact is, 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.
Besides the emotional stress that comes from the job, your personal life, or a busy schedule, there may be the physical stress from an illness, injuries, lack of sleep, or nutritional deficiencies. Both types of stress can translate into pain for those with FMS.
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 Wednesday, and be perfectly able to do it on Saturday.
Another way to understand this syndrome is to understand the hormone levels of a person with FMS. 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 FATIGUE
To understand fatigue, 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. Not so with the person suffering with fybromyalgia. They don’t get 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. Here are a few things to remember when you are dealing with someone with FMS:
- It is not a psychological illness.
- It is not a product of laziness.
- It is not complaining and shirking responsibility
- It is not depression
Fybromyalgia can be hard to understand but not impossible. If you know of someone with this syndrome, the best thing you can do for them is support them. They need your understanding and care. Good support from family and friends can make FMS easier to endure.