Many people with fibromyalgia suffer from a range of additional illnesses. One of the tragedies of living with such a miserable chronic pain condition is that not only is it debilitating by itself, it also leaves you vulnerable to developing a lot of other conditions. And one of the most common conditions that people with fibromyalgia suffer from is polyneuropathy.
Polyneuropathy is a condition where the nerves are damaged, which causes tingling and pain all over the body. And sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish between the pain of neuropathy and the pain of fibromyalgia. So, let’s talk about neuropathy. What is it? How is it related to fibromyalgia? And what can you do to treat it?
Neuropathy is caused by damage to the nerves. In cases of polyneuropathy, the principle is the same, but specifically, it affects the peripheral nerves on both sides of the body. The nerves play a central role in relaying pain signals to the brain. When tissue is damaged, it sends signals to the brain. The brain, in turn, processes this signal and interprets it as pain. This is the system that warns you to protect damaged tissue and is an important part of how the body works.
But when the nerves themselves are damaged, it leads to a pretty uncomfortable amount of pain that can become chronic. The most obvious symptoms of polyneuropathy are a tingling, burning, or numb sensation spreading down the limbs on both sides of the body.
What distinguishes polyneuropathy from regular neuropathy is that the sensation is symmetrical, affecting both sides of the body equally.
Like fibromyalgia, polyneuropathy causes pain in the limbs. But you can distinguish the condition from fibromyalgia by carefully considering what sort of pain you’re feeling. If it’s a sharp ache in the muscles that seems to radiate from 18 specific points, then it is likely fibromyalgia. But if it’s more of a general tingling or burning along the limbs, then it’s probably neuropathy.
There are a lot of different things that can cause neuropathy, and many of them can be related to fibromyalgia.
It’s worth noting how common nerve damage is in people with fibromyalgia. It’s estimated that close to half of people with fibromyalgia also suffer from a condition called “small fiber peripheral neuropathy.” This is a condition that causes the kind of tingling and burning sensation we associate with nerve damage.
We aren’t sure why that is, but it could reflect the role of the nervous system in fibromyalgia. The same faulty neural pathways that cause the pain of fibromyalgia may be contributing to neuropathy in some patients.
In addition, one of the most common causes of polyneuropathy is diabetes. And people with fibromyalgia suffer from diabetes at a higher rate than average. So it’s possible that if you have a concurrent condition like diabetes with your fibromyalgia, that it can lead to nerve pain.
There are a few ways to treat nerve pain. The first step is to make sure that you aren’t making lifestyle choices that can make your nerve pain worse. One of the worst contributors to nerve damage is alcohol. Not only can alcohol use lead to nerve damage, but it can also make existing nerve damage worse. Cutting out alcohol and ensuring that you get a rich, balanced diet to correct vitamin deficiencies are lifestyle adjustments that can help you reduce the amount of nerve pain you experience.
In addition, certain tasks, like typing on a computer, can compress your nerves which leads to damage. Make sure you take breaks from repetitive tasks, especially if your limbs start to tingle or feel numb.
When it comes to medical options, there are a few medications that can help treat nerve pain. And interestingly, many of them are usually prescribed to treat fibromyalgia, so you might get some extra benefit from your medication.
The first type of drug is anticonvulsants. These dull some of the interactions between nerves in the brain. This is why they are used to treat seizures caused by runaway nerves in the brain. And evidence shows that they can also help reduce the pain of both neuropathy and fibromyalgia.
The second type is antidepressants. If you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, odds are good that you’ve already been prescribed a drug like Lyrica or Cymbalta. But not only do these drugs help treat fibromyalgia, they can also help reduce nerve pain.