Have you ever been hit by a bus? No, I’m not being serious, but metaphorically speaking, have you? If so, then you likely know how mentally draining and painful it is to cope with the aftermath of it. So, my next question is, have you ever been physically injured in any way? If you haven’t you’re one of the lucky few. However, if you have, then I feel sorry for you because I can relate in more ways than one. Chronic pain and Fibromyalgia are NOT the same, but essentially are often categorized as such. Chronic pain is often a term utilized to describe fibromyalgia, but it is not the definition, nor is it the same type of pain.
The definition of fibromyalgia is simply put as a chronic, common, and complex pain condition or disorder that essentially causes wide spread body pain or pain that spreads across the body from specific tender trigger points and only effects 2-4% of the world’s population. To put it in a way everyone will understand, it’s like you have worked out too hard and too much at once, were in a bad car accident, and have the flu all at one time. In fact, only two to four percent suffer with this condition in the world. While all symptoms are different for each individual suffering, this is essentially a common way to describe it. Not only is it an invisible illness, meaning that it can’t physically be seen by the eye, it feels as though you are bruised all over your body. Furthermore, touching someone with fibromyalgia might just get you a pretty nice black eye because the skin is so sensitive to touch that the pain is unbearably excruciating.Symptoms of fibromyalgia are not limited to a small amount of conditions. In fact, pain is not just simply pain for a fibromyalgia fighter. The pain is often referred to as shooting, throbbing, aching, muscular pain that varies in intensity. Along with severely varied levels of pain comes the problem with fatigue. When a person suffers with FM, fatigue is not your typical tired from work feeling. In fact, the fatigue we suffer with is so diverse and significant that it affects our lives with work, social status, and personal activities. The exhaustion is often tiring within itself and just the word alone makes me tired now. When individuals suffer with severe fibromyalgia, the sleep disturbance is altered significantly. In fact, when people with Stage 4 FM are sleeping, sometimes their brains will produce bursts of activity that causes them to wake up from a deep sleep. Finally, other symptoms that are common include irritable bowel syndrome, skin sensitivities, and varied headaches such as migraines, restless leg syndrome, dizziness, neurological complications, and much more. In all honesty, if you suffer with fibromyalgia, your symptoms are likely linked together.
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So, if you aren’t cringing, or you are, regardless, you’re probably asking how do doctors diagnose FM and what can be done? Well, it’s unfortunately something that cannot be diagnosed simply by lab work. In fact, there is no blood test that can be done, although there is research regarding this for the future. Physicians and specialists alike strongly rely on the symptoms reported, a physical exam, and a physical exam to test tender points. When I was tested, I had seen a Rheumatology specialist and 11 out of 18 tender points were in agonizing pain once he was done. In terms of treatment, only so much can be done, but with a team of specialists, there is hope for relief.
While most are resilient to change and prefer to live with the motion of the ocean per say, change can be the foundation of relief for FM sufferers. Being able to recognize what triggers a pain attack is vital because if it can be prevented, well by all means, prevent that beast from visiting! Pain management is an option for many because these specialists offer injection therapy to the site of the tender points. Along with injection therapy there is the option to be prescribed pain medications that are controlled substances. If narcotics are not an option, there are other non-narcotic options that are available. Lyrica for example is the first drug to be approved by the FDA strictly for FM nerve pain. Other opportunities for pain relief are low dose anti-depressants that build up serotonin to help with sleep and relieve pain. Along with medication options is physical therapy and exercises that can help to “loosen” things up. Ultimately, when it comes to treating FM, it is a personal plan as to what works best for the patient. For me personally, taking my medication, stretching, and having rest days helps me, but what works for some doesn’t always work for others.
So you’re probably asking yourself what the cause of this traumatic life long experience is. Well, there is no direct answer at this point in time, but scientists and researchers do have some theories in mind. Many agree that it is indeed a disorder of the central processing unit with relation to the neuroendocrine and neurotransmitter dysregulation. Essentially, our pain is heightened because of abnormal sensory processing in the central nervous system. Basically, our nerves are on overdrive more often than not and they don’t know how to chill out and take a break from overreacting to so much unnecessary drama. Some studies also show that there may be a genetic link, but it’s not set in stone yet either. However, there has been new research conducted and produced within the specific areas of brain imaging and neurosurgery. Ongoing research is being done to see if there is a defect in the central nervous system that brings about so much physical pain.
Although the prognosis is not life threatening, it is life-altering and debilitating in many ways. In order to become the healthiest fibromyalgia fighter you can be, it’s important to have a strong team of doctors and an exceptional support system to have your back (literally). Finding an excellent primary physician is the foundation to beginning an appropriate treatment plan that is beneficial to you. Having a physical therapist, massage therapist, and mental health counselor are also suggested for an array of reasoning. When it comes to having a life altering, debilitating illness, it’s important to realize that your life or your loved one’s life is forever changed, but with proper medication and an action plan, living a “normal” life is possible.
As a fibromyalgia fighter myself, I know first-hand that our lives change forever. We keep praying and hoping for a cure, but it’s important to realize that we can’t get stressed out or overwhelmed because this will also ignite a pain attack, which is commonly known as a “flare-up” in the fibromyalgia community. A few close friends of mine also suffer with fibromyalgia and while we can all relate, we all suffer on different levels. It is NOT the same for everyone and likely never will be. Unless you have it, there is no way to even begin to understand or fathom the immense pain we feel every single day. Not only is it traumatizing and life changing, but it’s emotionally debilitating because we can’t live life the way we used to. Now we have to recognize what will cause a flare-up or what triggers we have.
Triggers are essentially activities of daily living that are hit and cause severe amounts of pain. For some, alcohol is a massive trigger and needs to be avoided. For others, it’s poor sleep, an abundance of stress, anxiety, performing too much physical activity, and even performing daily tasks that begin to limit us overtime. It has been my personal experience that my greatest triggers are too much physical activity, alcohol consumption of any amount, and stress. As I write this article, I’m beginning to suffer with yet again, another pain attack. Will I be alright? Of course, I will.
If you or someone you love has fibromyalgia, please be more understanding and more patient. We are NOT lazy individuals and we strive to live a normal, pain-free life. When we say we need our pain medication or CBD oil, we aren’t junkies or drug abusers. We are just so desperate for pain relief that we reach for what we know. For myself and my friends that struggle with FM, its rest and medication treatments. Take a moment to try and understand, comprehend what we go through on a daily basis. When you hug us, please be gentle and don’t treat us like we have leprosy. We aren’t contagious individuals. We are simply individuals that fight every single day. We are Fibromyalgia Fighters… Warriors of Chronic Pain.