Occasionally experiencing a few aches and pains is fairly normal for most of us. But have you ever wondered how life would be if your body continues to be tired and aching for months together? Although it may seem unbelievable, at least 3% of the general population suffer from a painful condition known as “fibromyalgia” which is more than the number of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

A painful condition, fibromyalgia is characterised by generalised pain and fatigue from head to toe. The location and intensity of soreness change regularly and usually tend to intensify with time. The fatigue may range from diffused pain to burning sensation, severely restricting the person’s movement and debilitating the person’s overall quality of life. Unlike other chronic syndromes, fibromyalgia is more common amongst women rather than in men. Other than the soreness and aches, people with fibromyalgia have sleep difficulties.

Due to lack of sleep and pain, patients also complain of fatigue and low energy. They have difficulty in concentrating and often appear listless and show signs of depression. Some may even have digestive disturbances like constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn and gas formation. Some people have urinary complaints, which include frequent and painful urination. Women often complain of painful menstrual cramps, pelvic pain and pain during intercourse. Researchers say multiple tender areas on the back of the neck, shoulders, hips, shin, elbows, knees and chest ache the most when pressed.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

In mild cases, fibromyalgia is triggered by a stressful situation, which may disappear once the stressful situation has passed. Any form of trauma such as childbirth, viral infection, car accident or an emotional event can trigger the symptoms. Sleep disturbances are also linked to recurring painful episodes. It has also been observed that the level of serotonin, “the feel-good neurotransmitter”, is depressed in fibromyalgia patients (which is usually elevated during sleep and exercise). If either of your parents has had fibromyalgia, there are chances that you might suffer from it too. There are several theories, but no particular reason that is the primary cause. This is because the symptoms are often overlapping with other common problems like rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome

Course of Treatment

At present, there are no known remedies for treating the symptoms. However, by adopting a multi-disciplinary approach which involves a combination of medicines, nutrition, exercise, counselling and relaxation, the patient will experience lesser pain, improvement in sleep quality and a new zest for life. In some cases, doctors prescribe mild anti-depressants that help improve the mood, relax the patient and help him sleep better. The primary treatment goals of nutrition therapy ideally include raising serotonin levels, improving sleep quality, and assuring adequate magnesium levels.

Tips to Manage Fibromyalgia

  • Eat 2-4 tbsp of alsi seed powder every day. It provides alpha-linolenic acid, which turns down pain and inflammation.
  • A hot water bath relieves the early morning stiffness, helps improve blood circulation and reduces pain experienced during movement.
  • Eating foods that are rich in anti-oxidants reduce inflammation of tissues. The anti-oxidants of particular help are flavonoids, carotenoids, turpenes, allyl sulfides and isothiocyanates. Include anti-oxidant rich food like cabbage, apples, grapes, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, garlic and onions in the raw form daily in your diet.
  • Avoid foods that cause sleep disturbances like alcohol, caffeine. Even social drinking can leave you tired.
  • Ensure adequate intake of protein as it maintains muscle mass and thereby builds strength. Include pulses, dals, sprouts, low-fat dairy products, lean meat like fish and chicken to fulfil your daily protein requirements.
  • Cutting down on fried foods and refined flour products helps to reduce the frequency of painful episodes.
  • Incorporate calcium and magnesium in your diet through dairy products, nuts and supplements.
  • Hydrate your system with at least eight glasses of water daily. Have lots of fresh juices and green tea to reduce the influence of inflammatory reaction on tissues and ease soreness.

Read more: Homeopathy for fibromyalgia

  • Incorporating anti-oxidant rich supplements like Coenzyme Q 10, primrose oil and B-complex vitamins boosts the immune system, and modulates it to fight the debilitating effect of stress on the body.
  • Improving your overall fitness levels through low impact activities like swimming and walking help strengthen the muscles and withstand the pain. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga and massages help to relax the cramps and relieve pain in tender points.
  • Having fun increases energy. All of you must have experienced this. Remember the times you were happy and laughing, your pain and fatigue seemed to vanish. Try to engage in activities that make you truly joyful and happy.
  • Stop smoking as it increases inflammation and pain.

Though the condition does not have a cure, by adopting a multi-disciplinary approach and seeking the support of family and friends, managing fibromyalgia will become easier.

(As published in Hindustan Times dated July 01 2019)

December 8, 2019

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