Friendly Lifestyles for Living With Fibromyalgia
Of all the questions surrounding the condition, one of the most sizable gaps in knowledge on fibromyalgia has to do with its "cure."
Fibromyalgia, also known as fibrositis, is often a long-term health condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body. Other symptoms include fatigue, sleep issues, and emotional and mental distress, which can lead to memory and mood problems. The disorder is regarded as common, with an estimated 3 million people affected by fibromyalgia every year in the United States.
The current state of fibromyalgia treatments is lacking, but therapies, including fibromyalgia self-care, can help.
"There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are a number of treatment options available to help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life," said Bill McKenna, the founder of CognoMovement in San Diego. "These may include medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling and lifestyle changes."
What are the side effects of treatment?
As fibromyalgia impacts the entire body, treatment can easily veer into over-medication, which is not advisable because of medicine-induced side effects.
"As with most medications, drugs used to treat fibromyalgia can cause undesired side effects in some people, such as sleep problems, nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, water retention and more," said Jeff Gladd, M.D., the founder of GladdMD Integrative Medicine in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "Often, the medications add to or create side effects that can sometimes be more troubling than the condition you are trying to address. It is another reason why an integrative medicine focus, where the main therapies are lifestyle and supplement-based can be so important."
Inflammation can be a major amplifier of pain, according to Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., a medical researcher and author in Kona, Hawaii.
"Herbal mixes that contain highly absorbed curcumin and Boswellia to balance inflammation can be helpful, such as products like Curamin," Teitelbaum said. "Nutritional support, especially with B vitamins and magnesium is also critical."
Curcumin is an active ingredient in turmeric, while Boswellia is the plant that produces Indian frankincense. Turmeric is a relatively common spice, as are B vitamins, and Boswellia is most commonly sold as a powder supplement or a liquid extract. Turmeric very rarely leads to side effects, even at higher doses, while Boswellia has been associated with some temporary, mild gastrointestinal discomfort.
Besides adding powerful anti-inflammatory agents to your diet, Gladd recommended making dietary changes and lifestyle adjustments by eliminating troublesome foods.
"I would also begin to focus on a whole-foods diet that is void of processed and refined foods and sugars, as well as an elimination diet that removed several common foods that can be inflaming, like gluten and dairy," he said. "It's also useful to keep a food log while you're looking for other possible offenders."
Listening to your body
McKenna balances the merits of exercise with the power of being gentle with yourself.
"Exercise and stretching can be helpful for managing fibromyalgia, as they can help to improve flexibility, strength and overall physical function," he said. "However, it's important to start slowly and listen to your body, as overexertion or pushing yourself too hard can worsen symptoms."
Eating healthy, eliminating alcohol and smoking, getting more exercise and changing routines might sound more difficult than popping a pill and being done with it. In truth, popping a pill and being done with it isn't a viable option in this case. Full-body health will relieve suffering and act as a preventive measure against a worsening condition and subsequent co-morbidities.
Fibromyalgia has also been associated with separate inflammatory diseases, such as autoimmune arthritis or those that attack the joints, jaw and spine.
"Especially common are insomnia, widespread pain, irritable bowel syndrome, cognitive dysfunction, chronic sinusitis, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome, hormonal dysfunction, orthostatic intolerance—such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome—and migraine headaches," Teitelbaum said.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Migraines and other types of headaches
- Interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome
- Joint disorders
- Postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
- Abnormal change in heart rate upon standing up that may lead to fainting
The toll on mental health
"Any severe disabling illness can trigger a secondary anxiety or depression, and fibromyalgia is no exception," Teitelbaum said.
A thorough understanding of each unique case of fibromyalgia in the present can help prevent or manage future flares, according to Gladd.
"Many people with fibromyalgia struggle with performing daily tasks such as chores and meal preparation due to their chronic pain, so offer to help them with these responsibilities," he said. "Take time to help work toward understanding the triggers for their flare-ups and help to minimize them whenever possible."
Fibromyalgia is often addressed by rheumatology organizations, but what differentiates the condition from arthritis is that it's not believed to be an inflammatory condition. However, allergies, wounds, tobacco, alcohol and some foods do cause inflammation, which would only exacerbate the already considerable pain of the disorder.
Fibromyalgia and sex
Pain, let alone chronic pain, is a large obstacle to overcome in anyone's sex life.
"In an in-house study we did, 73 percent of people with fibromyalgia had severe loss of libido," Teitelbaum said. "This was similar in men and women. But, like most autoimmune illnesses, women are much more likely to develop fibromyalgia, with 75 percent of our cases affecting women."
As well as arousal difficulties and a decrease in libido, fibromyalgia may also cause genital pain, orgasm issues and vaginal dryness. All of which may lead to a general disinterest in sex.
Even if your sex drive may take a nose dive, that doesn't mean intimacy must. Sensual activities like massages or sharing a warm bath or cuddling to watch a movie still encourage skin-on-skin bonding without the physical exertion of sex. Any activity that allows partners to feel and smell each other—to make use of any senses near their partner, really—can be comforting and beneficial.
If those activities do end up serving double duty and happen to set the mood, reconsider what constitutes sex. Penetrative sex may not be the best route and that's OK. That's just one skill in an extensive skill set.