by Angie Finlay
Aching muscles, trigger points, and debilitating fatigue – these are the hallmarks of fibromyalgia that every sufferer knows all too well. But there are other signs, symptoms and statistics of fibromyalgia that are not as frequently reported, though just as important to recognize.
Since fibro can interfere with every corner of your life, it’s important to know what to look for, and when to investigate other conditions, too. After all, knowledge is power, and the more you know about your fibromyalgia, the more power you’ll have over your chronic condition, and ultimately, your quality of life.
1. It’s the Most Common Chronic Pain Disorder in America
When you suffer from fibromyalgia, it can feel like you’re all alone, but there are actually millions of people who know exactly what you’re going through. It’s estimated that over 5 million Americans suffer from the condition, and 80% of fibro sufferers are women. But since fibro is a mysterious disease that’s often difficult to diagnose, there are probably far more people living with the chronic pain disorder without realizing it, and unfortunately, it can take a good deal of time to diagnose. Fortunately, the prevalence of fibromyalgia means it is very much on the medical radar – expect more findings on causes and advances in treatment to continue.
2. Digestive Distress Can Be an Early Warning Sign
You may have noticed that tummy troubles show up when your fibro symptoms flare, and that’s no coincidence. IBS affects around 70% of fibro patients, and often precedes a fibro diagnosis. The two conditions may have a common cause, since brain scans have shown that both sets of patients have more intense pain responses, but you’ll likely need a specific treatment approach for each. Focus on relaxing your digestive tract by eliminating notoriously irritating foods (caffeine and cruciferous veggies top the list), and adding helpful medication or natural supplements – that won’t interfere with your fibro treatment.
3. All Senses Are Uncomfortably Heightened
Fibromyalgia leaves you more sensitive to the pain in your muscles, but you may feel other discomforts more intensely, too. Allodynia refers to a heightened sensitivity to touch, and can make you recoil painfully from a simple handshake or a light pat on the back. Changes in certain neurotransmitters and light nerve damage are likely to blame for this, but allodynia can worsen with poor sleep quality. A related problem is sensitivity to light and smell, especially strong or artificial fragrance: fibromyalgia makes it difficult for your mind to sort through all the sensory input that’s constantly swarming your body, and that can impact each sense to some degree.
4. Excessive Sweating Is Not Uncommon
Pain can radiate through your body in a number of ways, leaving some fibromyalgia patients feeling hot and feverish. Heavy perspiration among fibro sufferers can be traced to a dysfunction in the hypothalamus gland in the brain, which controls a number of your body’s automatic functions. Luckily, there are ways to cool off this response in your brain, including certain medications and a few creative lifestyle changes. Sweating can be particularly disruptive when it comes to sleep, so you may want to use antiperspirant on your hands and feet before climbing into bed, or in severe cases, Botox injections into problem areas may be your best for relief.
5. Fibromyalgia Breeds Resentment
Constant pain and fatigue certainly isn’t easy on the body, but it can strain your life in other ways you may not have imagined. An astounding percentage of fibro sufferers report rifts in important relationships: only half of all patients feel happy and healthy in their current romantic relationship, almost 20% say that their spouse questions whether or not their fibro is real, and one in three report that their children are resentful when they can’t join in activities. Resentment can ruin relationships quickly, so it’s important not to suffer in silence – open, positive communication is vital for overcoming the weight and stigma of the condition.
6. Good Sleep is Essential Treatment
Although it’s not a cure for fibromyalgia, a good night’s rest can help in a big way. The “central sensitization” theory helps to explain the importance: essentially, tight muscles lead to poor sleep, and since your muscles don’t get the rest they need to recover, they don’t communicate properly with your central nervous system. This nervous system malfunction leaves you more sensitive to pain and other external stimuli. It follows that breaking the sleepless cycle will slow and dull the pain signals, so make sleep hygiene a top priority and seek immediate help for problems like sleep apnea.
7. Vitamin D Makes a Difference
This simple vitamin has a profound influence on bone and muscle pain, which makes it an important tool for fibro sufferers. It turns out that more than 50% of people are deficient in vitamin D; combine that with the heightened muscle sensitivity that comes with fibromyalgia, and you may need over twice as much medication to stay relatively comfortable (or an increase in meds may not do much for you at all). You’ll probably need a significant amount of vitamin D to make a difference in your symptoms – over 1000 IU, in most cases.
8. Psychological Symptoms Can Be Just as Severe as Physical Symptoms
You’ve likely heard of “fibro fog,” the cloudy thinking and hampered memory that comes when the pain is bad (and can continue for days on end). But don’t let the snappy name fool you – the cognitive problems that accompany fibromyalgia are a complicated and serious matter. In fact, one study that ran for over a decade found one third of fibro patients also had severe psychological issues, while another third reported moderate psychological problems. The more intense your fibro fog, the greater your chances of suffering emotionally, socially, and physically – in some cases, your memory and concentration loss can put your life in danger!