In 2001, Emily Shaules was an active and happy 25-year-old lawyer who lived in Chicago when a casual movement of her hair triggered a sudden and unbearable snap in her neck. Fearing that he had torn or whipped his neck, he went to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with a muscle tug, prescribed Vicodin and assured him that his symptoms could disappear within a week.
Instead, the pain began to radiate throughout his body. A month later, she could no longer bear hugging her boyfriend. “Imagine if someone cut your finger,” she says. “I felt that level of pain everywhere.”
Doctors evaluated Emily for everything from bulging discs and hypothyroidism to lupus and multiple sclerosis; Everything was negative. By 2003, she could not pick up her 12-pound dog, she had been fired from her job for not complying with the demands, and their relationship was over.
“I remember praying for a scan to show a brain tumor, because at least then I would have a specific diagnosis,” he says. “When no medicine will even touch your pain, but all doctors say that nothing happens, you start to think that you are crazy.”
Emily was not imagining things. Finally he was given an answer: fibromyalgia, a chronic condition with symptoms that include generalized pain and tenderness, sleep disorders and memory and cognitive problems (also called “fibrobronceous”).
It is believed that between 6 and 10 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, and most are women. But there is enormous confusion about what fibromyalgia really is, and there are no reliable diagnostic tests or cures. As a result, women often hear their doctor say something like what Emily heard: “You’ll have to get used to the pain.”
How it all begins
Many experts believe that fibromyalgia is triggered by a physical or emotional trauma (a car accident, a divorce, a sexual assault) that sends the body into a fight or flight mode. But even something as simple as Emily’s head spin can cause it.
“Normally, the sympathetic nervous system is turned on to prepare the body for a stressful situation, tightening the muscles and connective tissue to increase its strength, and then turning off when the threat disappears,” says Ginevra Liptan, MD, author of The FibroManual : A complete guide to fibromyalgia treatment for you and your doctor. But with fibromyalgia, the brain gets stuck and the stress response never stops, like a smoke alarm that sounds without a fire.
Experts believe that fibromyalgia is triggered by trauma that sends the body into a fight or flight mode.
Over time, a chronically activated sympathetic nervous system can cause chaos throughout the body, keeping muscles tense (causing pain and tenderness), avoiding deep sleep and ultimately causing pain-sensing nerves to increase their signs.
A difficult diagnosis
With well-recognized conditions such as cancer and diabetes, doctors have tools such as biopsies and blood glucose tests to help make a specific diagnosis. With fibromyalgia, many doctors continue to use criteria that originated in 1990, which forces them to press 18 points (including specific points on the neck, elbows, back and knees).
“If the patient is sensitive in 11 of the 18 points and other causes have been ruled out, they are diagnosed with fibromyalgia,” says Dr. Liptan. In 2010, the American College of Rheumatology stopped recommending the sensitive spot exam because of its subjective nature (a patient may feel pain in 13 spots one day and only 10 the next) and added “fatigue” and “mental confusion” to the criteria – together with a total pain that lasts from three to six months and that cannot be explained by another diagnosis.
To complicate matters, fibromyalgia often coexists with other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and migraines. (Doctors who focus on these conditions may lose fibromyalgia.)
Once a diagnosis is finally made – studies show that the process usually takes between two and 10 years – patients still have to deal with the fact that “some people mistakenly believe that fibromyalgia is a psychological disease and that it is “Everything in your head,” says Tarvez Tucker, MD, professor of neurology at the Oregon University of Science and Health in Portland.
Although the role of estrogen in pain syndromes is complex, higher levels of estrogen during pregnancy can protect against labor pain. On the contrary, when estrogen levels are low, such as at the onset of the menstrual cycle or at menopause, many women experience greater pain sensitivity.
Not surprisingly, fibromyalgia often appears in women between 40 and 55 years of age. And patients who are still of childbearing age often say that their pain worsens just before and during their periods, when estrogens plummet. There is also a genetic component: fibromyalgia tends to run in families.
Looking for relief
A handful of medications try to attenuate pain signals in the brain, but other fibromyalgia symptoms such as fatigue or brain fog do not seem to implove. Antidepressants can help, because the pain and mood centers of the brain overlap, so treating the latter, even in patients without depression, can sometimes improve pain. imageGETTY IMAGES For Servanne Edlund, 40, a mother of two children from Silver Lake, Minnesota, a combination of a nerve blocker and an antidepressant helped relieve the pain that led to her diagnosis five years ago. “I felt better almost immediately: more energy, better sleep and less pain,” he says. “I started walking as much as two miles every morning. Before the medication, I couldn’t go down the stairs. ” Certain lifestyle changes are also promising. For Emily, who is now 41 years old and lives in Asheville, North Carolina, relief came through a combination of mind and body relaxation techniques. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet full of fruits, vegetables and fish, meditate for 10 to 15 minutes per day and sleep eight hours per night. “The pain has diminished greatly, and meditation helps to lengthen my fuse, so I don’t bother about the little things that used to bother me when I had pain,” he says. “I learned that there can be health and happiness after fibromyalgia.” REDUCE PAIN: Try these strategies to cope with the situation. Get moving. A recent review of the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases from nearly 400 studies found that exercise reduces pain in people with fibromyalgia more than medications or other treatments. Mild cardio exercises such as walking relieve pain, improve sleep, decrease fatigue and help you lose weight; the activity of supporting weight strengthens the muscles; and stretching increases the range of motion. Find a release. Fibromyalgia can cause painful knots in the muscles and fascia (the connective tissue around the muscles). Myofascial release is a technique in which a practitioner slowly stretches his fascia, similar to stretching a piece of candy. This can speed healing and reduce inflammation. To find a provider, visit mfrtherapists.com.Cut out certain foods. Dairy products and gluten can be highly inflammatory for some people (eggs, corn and soy too). Eliminate them for three to six months to see if there is any improvement and to help you detect what a trigger can be. Just breathe. Light forms of yoga help your muscles relax. If you have fibromyalgia, avoid variations that have “potency” or “hot” in the name; These types can aggravate the symptoms. avoid variations that have “power” or “hot” in the name; These types can aggravate the symptoms. avoid variations that have “power” or “hot” in the name; These types can aggravate the