Understanding Fibromyalgia and Fibromyalgia Symptoms

What is fibromyalgia? It is a chronic (long-term) condition that causes widespread pain throughout the body, as well as fatigue, sleep issues, food sensitivities, and emotional and cognitive challenges, including “brain fog.” People with the condition also tend to be more sensitive to pain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, it affects about four million adults in the U.S. or 2 percent of the adult population.

Fibromyalgia causes are unknown, though researchers believe it involves amplification of the nervous system’s pain signals. Symptoms usually occur after a trauma, surgery, infection, or intense stress, though for some people, symptoms gradually develop over time without any definite catalyst. Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia, as are those with a family history of the condition.

Because fibromyalgia symptoms closely resemble those of other conditions, it is often misdiagnosed. It also often goes hand-in-hand with other conditions, including tension headaches, migraines, interstitial cystitis, postural tachycardia syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Until recently, many questioned its legitimacy, including healthcare providers. Fortunately, medical understanding has evolved, and some of that stigma has subsided.

There is no cure for the condition. However, it is treatable. Various tactics, including acupuncture, massage, physical and occupational therapy, stress-reduction techniques, exercise, and medications, can help. Eating a balanced, healthful diet and getting adequate sleep is also crucial to fibromyalgia treatment, as these lifestyle factors can impact your overall health.

What Triggers Fibromyalgia Flares?

Many people with fibromyalgia experience some degree of symptoms every day. However, there are usually periods where symptoms are more intense than others, followed by periods where they are less severe. These fluctuations are known as flare-ups and remission, respectively.

Flare-ups, or flares, can last for days or weeks. While they may seem to occur out of the blue, there is usually a triggering event.

According to VeryWellHealth, common triggers include:

  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Hormones, including but not limited to menstrual cycle changes
  • Poor sleep
  • Schedule changes
  • Weather and temperature fluctuations
  • Illness
  • Any kind of trauma, including injury or surgery
  • Significant events, including holidays
  • Too much or not enough exercise
Woman with hands on neck because of fibromyalgia pain

Certain foods may also trigger flare-ups. As Healthline explains, many people with fibromyalgia benefit from eating an anti-inflammatory diet for this reason. Foods to avoid or cut back on, which may trigger a flare, include sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, alcohol, and unhealthy fats.

The Struggle for Comfortable Sleep

Research indicates about 95 percent of people with fibromyalgia have difficulty sleeping, and daytime fatigue and sleep disturbance (“non-restorative sleep”) are known as two of the condition’s main symptoms.

The reason people with fibromyalgia have trouble getting a good night’s rest varies. Pain is often the central factor, but other symptoms and conditions that occur alongside fibromyalgia, including restless leg syndrome (RLS), depression and anxiety, hormone imbalances, and gastrointestinal or bladder difficulties, can also contribute.

Because sleep has such a significant impact on overall health, insomnia often exacerbates symptoms of fibromyalgia and comorbid conditions. It can also lower a person’s pain threshold and intensifies pain perception.

Fortunately, there are ways to break free from this vicious cycle.

For most, tackling fibromyalgia-related sleep difficulties involves a combination of tactics. Here are some strategies to consider.

Invest in the Right Mattress

Your mattress’ type and quality can affect how well you sleep (or don’t), especially for people with conditions like fibromyalgia.

The best mattress for fibromyalgia is firm enough to keep the spine balanced and relieve stress from pressure points, such as the knees, hips, or shoulders, and contains some sort of temperature regulation.

Mattresses with multi-zone support are particularly good for musculoskeletal pain, as they are designed with varying levels of support for different areas of the body to prevent strain.

Memory foam or latex mattresses that conform to the body can also be beneficial, as these provide cushion for pain points.

Because people with fibromyalgia tend to be more sensitive to temperature, you may also want to look for a temperature-controlled product for optimal comfort.

Prioritize Exercise

Regular exercise is crucial for good mental and physical health, especially for those with other existing conditions. Research indicates exercise can improve sleep, boost mood, and reduce fibromyalgia symptoms.

Make it a priority and integrate fitness into your daily routine, whether that’s a morning walk, after-work swim session, aerobics or yoga classes, weightlifting, or a combination.

You may also want to consider working with a chiropractor or physical therapist. Exercise can be daunting for those with chronic pain, and these types of professionals may be able to help you manage it. They can also suggest activities, including stretches and strength-building techniques, to safely improve your fitness.

Focus on Your Mental Health

Mental and physical wellness are inextricably entwined, and addressing mental health concerns is a key part of insomnia and fibromyalgia treatment.

Research indicates practices such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness meditation can help. You may also want to consider counseling, especially if you experience depression or anxiety.

Other stress-relief and mood-enhancing practices to consider are yoga and aromatherapy. Keeping a consistent schedule, including going to bed and waking up at consistent times, may also help.

Talk to Your Doctor About Medication Options

If you’re not having luck with the above strategies, a sleep medication or supplement may help. Melatonin and herbal remedies, such as Passiflora or valerian, may be helpful and have few or no side effects.

Be sure to talk to your doctor first before you take any kind of supplement or medication. This is especially important if you are already taking medications, as certain over-the-counter and herbal remedies can interfere with others.

If herbal and over-the-counter remedies are not working, your doctor may prescribe a sleep or pain management medication.

Breaking the Cycle

 

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition with a wide range of symptoms and associated challenges. But knowledge is power. With a better understanding of how the condition affects sleep and what tools you can use to improve sleep quality, you can take back more control of your health and wellbeing.