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Dr Russ Blog - Feeling Better with Fibromyalgia
Feeling Better with Fibromyalgia
Created on 3/9/2010

J wrote in to ask about fibromyalgia, an all too common disorder that most frequently affects women aged 30-50 years. She has had the disorder for 2 years and states she is "almost back to normal," but wonders whether there is anything new on the horizon regarding the underlying cause, and the management, of fibromyalgia.

I am very pleased that you are doing better, J, as the symptoms of fibromyaligia can be very problematic. While often non-specific, some of the most notable symptoms include diffuse body pain, fatigue and problems with sleep. 

An unfortunate truth is that up until perhaps 5-10 years ago, many experts believed that fibromyalgia was primarily a reflection of a mood disorder (anxiety or depression, for example).

It is now understood that the symptoms of fibromyalgia represent an abnormality in the processing of pain signals. In other words, there is dysfunction within the nervous system. Any anxiety and / or depression seen with fibromyalgia is likely more related to the experience of chronic pain and its impact on daily quality of life. 

Your doctor can often offer treatment that may help relieve some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, and may refer you to a rheumatologist or a pain specialist, but there is a lot that you can do for your self, too.

Your doctor has likely already checked your vitamin D level, but ask to be sure. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to a disorder called osteomalacia. The symptoms? Diffuse bone pain which gets better once vitamin D levels rise.

Do whatever you can to ensure a good night's sleep. Have a set bedtime, and begin turning all "screens" (computer, TV, etc) off at least 30 minutes before bedtime. You might even have a cup of chamomile or passionflower tea before heading off to bed. Cat naps during the day (no longer than 30 minutes) can be restorative and good for you, too.

There may be an inflammatory component to fibromyalgia. Hold to an anti-inflammatory type diet (perhaps a Mediterranean-style diet) - it may help quell the discomfort of fibromyalgia, and is, overall, good for your health.

We shouldn't discuss diet without mentioning exercise, and in the setting of fibromyalgia exercise is REALLY important. While it's hard to get moving when you're in pain, data strongly suggest that regular exercise can help decrease the symptoms of fibromyalgia and improve your quality of life.

Find healthy ways to manage the stress in your life. Good options include journaling, meditation, breathing exercises, laughter, attending religious services, and working with a counselor. By the way, exercise is one of the best stress busters we know of.

You might also look into Chinese medicine. A number of my patients with fibromyalgia have experienced benefit from acupuncture provided by a well-trained practitioner. Gentle yoga therapy, working one-on-one with a yoga therapist, can also be helpful.

Having fibromyalgia can be a very difficult experience, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, the light being improved health and comfort. There's  every reason to believe you can get there through a combination of good conventional medical care and well-chosen self-care options.

May your health and wellbeing continue to improve, J. Thank you for your question.
Be well.
Dr. Russ

** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **

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