The Writerri small bird

Health and Beauty Articles

Part 1: Fibromyalgia

I always thought I would be starting with the obligatory aches and pains around the same time as I was beginning to draw from my pension. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t prepared for being the 25 year old who made disgruntled noises when standing from sitting, who needs a lie down with a hot water bottle every night and who requires at least 9 hours of sleep a night in order to function the next day. I had always put it down to lifestyle – my job is physically demanding, and I could rival Quasimodo with my embarrassingly bad posture.

Fibromyalgia – My story

For ten years I was back and forth from specialists – doctors, chiropractors, physiotherapy, X-rays, scans and blood tests – nothing ever showed up as abnormal. I was told time and time again that I had a bad posture and that was the cause of all of my problems. I believe this is a very under-diagnosed condition, due to the fact that it is indeed difficult to diagnose.

I knew there had to be something wrong, as the way I was feeling wasn’t normal – and I was getting worse with age. A rheumatologist confirmed within two minutes last month that it was ‘classic fibro’ (I must admit the relief that there was a shorter way to say the word!)

Hello, Fibromyalgia, it’s not so nice to meet you.

Fibromyalgia is characterised by the following symptoms:

· A general feeling of pain all over the body

· Increased sensitivity to pain

· Muscle stiffness

· Difficulty sleeping

· Problems with mental processes – know as ‘fibro fog’ – such as problems with memory and concentration

· Headaches

· Irritable bowel syndrome

Other symptoms could include:

· Sensitivity to cold and heat

· Incontinence

· Anxiety and depression

· Dryness in the mouth, nose and eyes

· Numbness and/or poor circulation in the fingers and feet

· Restless legs syndrome

· Stiffness

Notice a pattern at all? It’s all things that cannot be seen by the naked eye. From the outside you will look absolutely fine; this is both a relief and a frustration, as it can be difficult for friends, family and work colleagues to understand fully what you live with on a day-to-day basis. There are some illnesses that have similar symptoms such as M.E and Lupus. Fortunately, this is not a life threatening illness. It can affect quality of life quite significantly, and although there is no cure, there are many lifestyle changes that can be implemented to help.

What is Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS)?

Although the direct cause is relatively unknown, it is thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain as well as changes in the way the nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) processes pain messages carried around the body. Sufferers describe the pain as similar to arthritic pain, although FMS does not affect the joints.

As well as this, Fibromyalgia can be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event i.e. a traumatic childhood or the death of a loved one.

It affects 7 times more women than it does men, and although it can develop at any age, it is most common between the ages of 30 and 50. Although there is not an exact figure on how many sufferers there are due to the difficulty involved in getting a diagnosis, it is estimated that 1 in 20 could have it. It is also thought to be genetic in some cases.

Treatment for Fibromyalgia

Exercise

This is the first on my list as this, in my experience, is the only thing that truly helps this condition. However, it is a bit of a minefield what you should and shouldn’t be doing, as many exercises aggravate FMS. As a rule of thumb, avoid high impact sports (running, circuits, and lifting heavy weights) or sports where you are pushed too hard. I’ve since admitted defeat and retired from exercise classes. Instead opt for lighter exercises such as swimming, yoga, cycling and Pilates. I also find a gentle gym work out very beneficial – getting the heart rate up and the blood pumping around the body is excellent for alleviating the muscular pains that come with FMS.

Heat treatments

Heat is a God-send when it comes to Fibromyalgia. It was no coincidence that most of my symptoms cleared this year when I went to Gran Canaria for a week of sun (I maintain that I should have been born in a warm climate!) Heat treatments such as hot water bottles, hot baths, electric blankets and hot stone massages are instant soothers for the painful muscles.

Medication

I am definitely not qualified to be advising what medications should be prescribed for this condition, and you should visit your GP for sound advice on whether medication could help or not. But generally, the main medications that are prescribed are anti-depressants, such as Amitriptyline, and painkillers, such as co-codomal.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This is a common recommended treatment for FMS. CBT is a therapy which focuses on changing the way that you think about certain things, as well as your own responses to them. I can appreciate fully that this is an illness where it would be tempting to throw your hands up and admit defeat; this therapy is designed to help change your mind set into a more positive one. Lily Murray at Lotus Blue on Cromwell Street offers this type of counselling.

Learn to take it easy

With this illness, you simply cannot live a life without some adaption. Learning to pace yourself will help preserve your energy and improve your quality of life.

· When you are having a ‘good day’ do not over-do it.

· Find the right balance between activity and rest, ensuring you are taking regular time to relax.

· If you know you have a big event coming up which will require you to be on the go for several hours, ensure you are doing things that help your symptoms on the days before i.e. eating well, doing light exercise, getting a good night’s sleep.

· Try to avoid stress in your life where possible, as this aggravates symptoms.

· Explain your illness to family and friends, ensuring they have a sound understanding.

Diet

Diet plays a role in the headaches and fibro-fog that comes from FMS. I was advised to cut gluten from my diet to help my symptoms. This made a lot of sense as I often feel at my worst when I’ve eaten something that is heavy with flour or anything that is very processed/reheated. However, gluten free is no easy feat!

Keeping a food diary and noting how you feel after each meal should help you determine what foods/drinks help or make you worse – do you get headaches after eating sugar? Or feel fatigued after eating bread?

In general, it makes sense to eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, while cutting back on processed foods and sugar. This will help to increase energy levels and improve your overall health.

Since my diagnosis I’ve been able to manage my symptoms much better by changing my diet, exercising more and by not doing too much on days where I have no symptoms. Yes Hoover, I’m looking at you!

Well, something’s got to give...

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