Imagine living your life in a constant state of pain.
Now imagine that most of the doctors you consult about this pain inform you that it is “all in your head” and the only option you have is to manage the pain with pharmaceutical pain medications for the rest of your life.
Welcome to the world of fibromyalgia.
Now, as bleak as that scenario sounds, it is important to note that this is the usual outcome within the conventional medicine world. In reality, fibromyalgia is a condition rooted in chronic inflammation, and when given the right care and attention can be turned around.
Quick look at Fibromyalgia:
Most common presenting symptoms:
- Widespread pain
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Difficulty sleeping
- Cognitive and memory issues
- Morning stiffness
- Numbness and tingling
At Hill Functional Wellness, we are dedicated to helping our patients live lives that aren’t burdened by health concerns like fibromyalgia. With over 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry, we have been blessed to have helped many, many people overcome issues they once thought were insurmountable - fibromyalgia included.
Although the diagnosis can seem like a lifelong sentence, in all reality it doesn’t matter what you call it as long as you understand why it is there. This is the first step in finding success.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
When you break down the diagnosis name itself, it goes something like this:
fibro/ - ‘fibrous tissues’
/my/ - ‘muscle’
/algia - ‘pain’
So in all reality, the name of the diagnosis itself basically just describes a condition that is characterized by pain in the musculoskeletal tissues (muscles and fibrous tissue). Most commonly, symptoms like fatigue and localized tenderness will also be present as well.
Fibromyalgia is a prevalent condition that is estimated to affect 6-12 million Americans. This accounts for 2-4 percent of the U.S. adult population, about 75-90% of which are women. The diagnosis itself did not even pop up on the mainstream medical radar until about 1980, and since then has climbed significantly in prevalence year after year.
As is true for many chronic inflammatory conditions, fibromyalgia can have devastating effects on those who suffer from it. Stress, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, fatigue, and many other accompanying symptoms are commonplace, and many of the medications commonly prescribed for the condition only serve to exacerbate these things.
However, with the help of a knowledgeable doctor, calculated lifestyle and diet alterations have shown to help individuals not only improve their symptoms, but regain their health independence.
(Fibromyalgia is often characterized by widespread pain throughout the body.)
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
While the exact causal mechanism of fibromyalgia isn’t fully understood, recent research has shown some promising correlative relationships that shed light on the big picture. The most promising early research is in the area of gastrointestinal health, and how issues like leaky gut, bacterial dysbiosis, and SIBO (or small intestine bacterial overgrowth) have very strong concurrent diagnosis rates. The basic implication is that alterations in the health of the GI tract (and its bacterial residents!) have a profound effect on the transmission and perception of pain impulses throughout the body.
So even though the root cause and mechanism remains slightly clouded, there is more clarity now than there has been over the past few decades. As the functional wellness approach to healthcare expands its purview, this should only advance our understanding of fibromyalgia and other related issues.
One other point to note is that for a large percentage of people with fibromyalgia, there are many contextual similarities. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most common details:
- Familial Tendency - Associated with the disease is the likelihood that a family member also has been affected by the condition, evidence that fibromyalgia could be linked to genetic makeup or mutation.
- Infections - some bacterial or viral infections have shown to not only trigger the onset of fibromyalgia, but cause those who previously had the diagnosis to flare-up.
- Related Disease - Alongside infections, other related chronic pain conditions such as arthritis have shown to be present.
- Trauma - PTSD and other physical and emotionally traumatic events have been linked to fibromyalgia.
- Anxiety/Depression - Links between mood disorders and fibromyalgia can clearly be seen as well. Research suggests that fibromyalgia patients are three times more likely to have depression.
Who Is At Risk For Fibromyalgia?
As stated above, women are more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than men, but the condition is commonly seen in both genders. Typically, fibromyalgia is diagnosed sometime between the ages of 20 to 50 years old, yet the disease can be found in children and older populations.
What Are The Symptoms?
Fibromyalgia is often difficult to diagnose due to the fact that symptoms are often indistinct from several other conditions and diseases. Therefore, seeing a fibromyalgia specialist can yield the quickest route to an understanding and successful treatment.
A few common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Widespread pain and tender points throughout the body
- Difficulty sleeping
- Cognitive and memory issues (known as “fibro fog”)
- Stiffness, especially in the morning
- Numbness and tingling
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Painful menstrual cramps
How Do Fibromyalgia Doctors Diagnose And Treat The Condition?
Due to the semi-ambiguous nature of the array of symptoms of fibromyalgia, making a concrete diagnosis can be very difficult.
We believe that in taking the functional approach to this issue, the name of the diagnosis becomes insignificant when you develop an understanding as to why it is there.
Conventional Diagnosis And Treatment Of Fibromyalgia
The conventional medical community would say that fibromyalgia diagnosis has come a long way throughout the years. Traditionally, an 18-point tender point exam used to exist, however, today doctors often give a diagnosis based on a patient’s medical history alone.
The truth is that there is no concrete laboratory test that is definitively used to diagnose fibromyalgia. Because the diagnosis is based on a set of symptoms and medical history, a diagnosis is usually made only if these signs are present and other similar conditions have been ruled out (such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, major depressive disorder, and other often ambiguous autoimmune disorders).
Because the diagnosis almost solely depends on the subjective symptoms of the patient, it is no surprise that the conventional treatment for the condition is almost solely aimed at managing these symptoms. The usual way of doing so is through the use of OTC pain medications, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medications (which are sometimes successful in altering pain signal transmission within the nervous system).
It is important to note that none of these approaches address any underlying root cause of the disease. This is an important detail because one of the most common complaints of conventional fibromyalgia patients is that they feel as though they will be dependent on these medications for the rest of their lives.
Functional Treatment Of Fibromyalgia
While pain management can sometimes be a useful tool when symptoms become so severe that they overwhelm the normal cadence of life, it is well understood that they do not actually address the underlying cause of the disease.
In line with the promising research findings correlating gastrointestinal diseases with fibromyalgia, there have also been encouraging treatment outcomes in the same vein. If an inflammatory response is triggered by what happens as a result of SIBO or dysbiosis, then first addressing the gastrointestinal distress should mediate that immune response. This is exactly what we and many other functional practitioners are seeing.
Natural treatments for fibromyalgia have shown to be some of the most effective methods for addressing and eliminating the chronic condition. Here at Hill Functional Wellness, we will work side by side with you to craft a personalized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs. By keeping your goals in mind, we will empower your body to heal and regain health independence.
(Eating and supplementing with purpose can help treat fibromyalgia patients.)
Possible recommendations we might suggest to help combat fibromyalgia include:
- Improved Sleeping Practices - Getting an adequate quantity and quality of sleep decreases the effects of fatigue and allows the space for your body to heal.
- Exercise - Muscle stamina and strength building can promote great benefits in counteracting pain and discomfort. Aerobic exercises like running and swimming have shown to be beneficial exercises for fibromyalgia patients.
- Diet - Including fermented foods and probiotic/prebiotic rich foods into your diet can be beneficial. Also, foods rich in glycine are healing for the gut, which is helpful as well.
- Supplements - When indicated in accordance with the proper testing, supplementation of specific nutrients can be an essential piece to the puzzle. One specific category of benefit is daily probiotic supplementation.
- Stress Management - Stress is oftentimes unavoidable, but how we perceive it and respond to it can dictate its effects on our bodies.
- Avoid Potential Irritants - Eating a clean (i.e. organic, pesticide and chemical-free) diet, avoiding other irritants to the GI tract, and treating any intestinal parasites if present.
And always remember: not everyone is ready to go 'full speed ahead' with all of these things at once. Each patient is an individual, and your action plan should be tailored to your goals and your abilities at each step on the journey.
Find Your Fibromyalgia Healing Plan
Contact us today if you’re currently struggling with fibromyalgia or are wondering if it may be on the horizon. When given the correct attention, fibromyalgia has shown to be a condition that can be overcome. We will dedicate our efforts to understanding what makes you unique and correcting the root cause of whatever presents - patient-centered and outcome-driven.