Fibromyalgia / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a complex syndrome with an unknown cause and no medically known cure, which affects an estimated 3-6 million people in North America alone. Women are mainly affected and tend to develop symptoms between the ages of 25 and 45. It's defined as wide spread pain, tenderness and stiffness of muscles, tendons and ligaments lasting greater than 3 months and is often accompanied by fatigue, anxiety and depression. Although fibromyalgia is not considered to be associated with the joints, some people with this condition do in fact go on to develop rheumatoid or osteoarthritis. As well this condition has been associated with viral infections such as Epstein-Barr and Hepatitis C. The term myalgia means muscular pain, however inflammation in the muscles is often present. Although any muscle may be affected pain most often occurs in the neck, low back, shoulders, chest and thighs. People who develop fibromyalgia are often stressed, tense, depressed and/or anxious. This condition can be brought on or aggravated by frequent stress, poor sleeping habits, chronically working long hours, depression and emotional trauma. Exposure to damp and cold weather may also make the symptoms worse. Fibromyalgia is often diagnosed after all other conditions have been ruled out. With proper health care, many individuals are able to resume an active lifestyle.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia may include:
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
- Severe muscle pain
- Tenderness at specific sites ("trigger points")
- Chronic fatigue, often to the point the person feels unable to perform normal activities
- Chronic aching and stiffness
- Numbness and tingling
- Chest pain and cardiovascular problems
- Pain and fatigue increased by even minor exertion
- Low grade fever
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Insomnia or un-restful sleep
- Abdominal pain and bowel disturbances
At this point in time there is no individual cause that has been proven to be responsible for all cases of fibromyalgia. Most likely there are many factors, which combine together to produce this syndrome. Recent research points to a break down in the ability of cells to produce energy. It also suggests there may be a problem with seratonin (the happy, feel good chemical in the brain) and / or the thyroid, hypothalamus and pituitary glands (these glands are all involved with thyroid hormone production and utilization in the body). Heavy metal (specifically aluminum) accumulation and viruses have also been implicated as causes of this condition.
What Are My Treatment Options?
Allopathic / Conventional Medicine
Medical Doctors usually recommend massage, heat applications and stretching exercises. Anti-inflammatory medications (such as Ibuprofen, Vioxx and Celebrex) are often prescribed to help relieve pain. Low-dose tricyclic antidepressants may also be used, specifically at bedtime to help promote sleep.
- Nutrition: This can begin with either an elimination diet or an anti-yeast diet. During an elimination diet you remove foods that are likely to be aggravating the symptoms. These foods are then reintroduced at a later date in a systematic way, in order to determine the body's reaction to them. Some foods such as wheat and dairy are highly associated with intolerances, and should be avoided. An anti-yeast diet consists of removing all foods that contain yeast and promote its growth in the body. This includes all sugars, vinegars, breads and pastas. Meat, peanuts and members of the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) promote inflammation in the body and therefore may increase pain in the muscles. Including plenty of ocean going fish will help to decrease inflammation, and may help relieve pain.
- Nutritional Supplements: Often it is too difficult to eat enough of the right foods, or the amount of food necessary to get all the nutrients in the amounts we need. Fish oil capsules are available to help us get enough of the essential fats we need to help decrease inflammation. Magnesium helps relax the muscles and is also available in a tablet and liquid form. Acidophilus and other good bacteria that live in the gastro-intestinal tract can help eliminate yeast, which also contributes to this condition. Malic acid and vitamin B12 have also been used to treat fibromyalgia with great success.
- Botanical Medicine: These can be used in the form of a tincture (liquid), tea or capsule.
- Siberian ginseng - has been used to reduce the effects of stress and improve energy
- Saint John's Wort - helps improve mood and sleep patterns
- Oats - helps in cases of nervous exhaustion and low fever
- Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture: According to traditional Chinese medical theory, fibromyalgia may due to disorders of the liver, spleen and kidney. Therapies are geared towards strengthening these organs and preventing pathogens from attacking the system. There are many herbal formulas (called patents), which can be used during acute episodes and as prevention. Bupleurum and Cinnamon C is the name of one patent that is used specifically when there is evidence of an underlying infection. Acupuncture needles can be used in conjunction with herbs to further strengthen and support the organs. The emotions anger, worry and fear may weaken the liver, spleen and kidney and therefore should be addressed as well.
- Arnica - used in cases of muscle pain especially when there is a bruised feeling over the whole body. Often there is soreness in the limbs, and the pain is made worse with exertion.
- Rhus toxicodendron - is a good remedy to use with inflammation of tendons and muscles and soreness in muscles, which feels better with continued motion. The pain also gets worse if the person gets wet while perspiring.
- Nux vomica - can be useful when the person is a workaholic and expects a lot of themselves, as well as in instances where there is a lot of anger.
- Lifestyle Changes: As was mentioned above, many people with fibromyalgia tend to be stressed out and tense. Performing deep breathing exercises, yoga and tai chi may all be beneficial in helping to relieve stress. Seeking counseling for stress and learning stress management techniques are also essential in the treatment of this condition.
The above treatment considerations are intended for informative purposes only and Millennium Health Centre does not propose that they will ensure cure. While some have used the basic information mentioned above to successfully treat themselves, such self-diagnosis and treatment is greatly cautioned. These therapies need to be considered in the greater context of an individual's overall health status, other medical conditions and the use of pharmaceutical medications. Indeed, these treatments must always be considered as to their potential to interact with other botanical and pharmaceutical medications. As such, consultation with a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine is strongly advised. Please see our 'Links' page for the O.A.N.D.'s website to locate an N.D. in your area, or call Millennium Health Centre to arrange an appointment.