For the 5 million (approximately 1 in 50) U.S. adults suffering from fibromyalgia, simple actions such as washing the dishes or making the bed can be tremendously challenging. And despite the fact that the symptoms are, in many cases, sufficiently excruciating and debilitating to sentence sufferers to a life in pain – unpredictable, boundless, debilitating pain – many physicians don’t even recognize it as a disease (or have a hard time diagnose it correctly).
But the reality is, living with a condition characterized by widespread muscle and joint pain, often accompanied by chronic fatigue, dizziness, and increased sensitivity to certain foods, odors, sounds, and substances, significantly impairs the quality of life in most sufferers. Here are five ways in which this “not-so-serious” disease can turn your life upside down.
How Does Fibromyalgia Disrupt Your Life?
You can no longer sleep. For patients with fibromyalgia, nights are spent in irregular intervals of ‘quasi-sleep.’ Due to frequent arousals throughout the night, increased lighter stages of sleep, and intense, awake-like brain activity, 3 in 4 patients are unable to get a deep, restorative sleep. According to a 2013 study, 61% of men and 32% of women with fibromyalgia suffer from sleep apnea. Some women are affected by a specific variant of sleep apnea called upper airway resistance syndrome, a sleep-disordered breathing problem characterized by airway resistance to breathing during sleep.
You can no longer work. Due to the excruciating pain, fatigue, chronic headaches, and other debilitating symptoms, one-quarter of people with fibromyalgia are work-disabled. Patients suddenly become hypersensitive to food items, odors, sounds, and even to touch, and find it extremely challenging to perform many kinds of physical work. To make matters worse, disability claims are often denied by examiners due to the fact that fibromyalgia is not yet a legitimate disease recognized to cause functional limitations in patients.
You can no longer focus or remember things. Many patients suffering from this condition start experiencing certain cognitive disruptions that can have a tremendous impact on their mental and emotional state. Some are unable to remember certain details or absorb new information; others have difficulty choosing the right words to express their feelings or find themselves unable to distinguish between similarly shaped numbers. To help sharpen their concentration and memory skills, many patients choose hypnosis and meditation, while also engaging in brain games, reading, and other intellectual tasks.
You are no longer satisfied with your life. According to the CDC, patients with fibromyalgia are 3.4 more likely to suffer from major depression than non-sufferers. At the same time, their perceived “present quality of life” is, on average, only 4.8 (with 1 the lowest and 10 the highest). The stress from the pain and fatigue may lead to patients becoming anxious, socially withdrawn, and even depressed. They start feeling depleted of energy, burdened by feelings of worthlessness, or unable to find pleasure in enjoyable activities. In severe cases, the negative disposition of patients can lead to thoughts of death and suicide.
For Fibromyalgia Patients, Alternative Is the Way to Go
The worst part about this debilitating condition is that there is no known treatment that addresses and provides permanent relief for all the symptoms. Since there are no diagnosis tests for it, doctors must conduct various physical examinations and rule out other conditions to reach a a correct diagnosis. Those who do know how to recognize its signs often prescribe a mix of prednisone, anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and sleep medications to ease the symptoms one by one. Unfortunately, the side effects of a long-term drug treatment can be just as debilitating as the condition itself.
To avoid causing further harm, fibromyalgia sufferers are encouraged to choose safe, non-drug treatments that stimulate the body to heal itself. Some of the most in-demand alternative therapies for the treatment of fibromyalgia include:
- Acupuncture – By increasing blood flow to affected areas, acupuncture can ease some of the most common fibromyalgia symptoms such as tension headaches and stiffness.
- Massage therapy – As an effective pain management technique including gentle strokes, kneading, and several friction techniques, massage therapy can ease many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- Yoga and meditation – When avoidance is not an option, pain can be alleviated by switching from the constant fight-or-flight response to a peaceful mood, bringing down stress levels and improving circulation.
- Chiropractic – Through spinal adjustments that increase the mobility between the vertebrae, chiropractors can reduce pain levels and restore the normal range of motion.
Although there is still no known cure that provides permanent relief from pain, fibromyalgia is not a sentence to a life in misery. Alternative therapies can go a long way in restoring your body’s abilities to fight the pain and allow you to go back to leading a normal, healthy, and fulfilling life.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.