Healthy lifestyle strategies to ease fibromyalgia symptoms

Fibromyalgia can be very challenging to deal with. Beyond the chronic pain and stiffness, there is fatigue, lack of sleep, and brain fog or “fibro fog.” Plus, it’s often associated with other issues related to mental health and gut health, making the management of symptoms more difficult. Self-care plays a key role in easing the symptoms. The good news is that there are specific steps you can take to help you manage your fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia: What it is

Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain conditions, affecting more women than men. In the U.S., it’s estimated that up to 7.7 percent of women and 4.9 percent of men experience fibromyalgia. These rates are higher than in Europe or South America.

Fibromyalgia is considered to be a “pain regulation” or “neurosensory” disorder because people with fibromyalgia seem to experience more pain and a higher intensity of pain than others, even under gentle pressure. Fibromyalgia causes pain or tenderness that is very sensitive to the touch, can happen just about anywhere throughout the body, and lasts days, weeks, months, or longer. This is thought to be because the brain becomes more sensitive to pain. Fibromyalgia pain can come and go throughout the body in “flares” and it often occurs along with stiffness, fatigue, brain fog -“fibro fog,” and mental health issues. It can feel debilitating and may cause a lot of distress.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Fatigue

  • Sleep dysfunction

  • Cognitive complaints

  • IBS and irritable bladder

  • Headaches

  • Unusual sensory patterns (sensory dysesthesia)

  • Exercise intolerance

  • Depression/anxiety

Fibromyalgia: How it is diagnosed

There is no specific test for fibromyalgia. Rather, fibromyalgia is a diagnosed by excluding other conditions and meeting the following criteria:

  • Generalized pain, defined as pain in at least 4 of 5 regions, is present.

  • Symptoms have been present at a similar level of intensity for at least 3 months.

  • Widespread pain index (WPI) ≥ 7 and symptom severity scale (SSS) score ≥ 5 OR WPI of 4–6 and SSS score ≥ 9.

A diagnosis of fibromyalgia is valid irrespective of other diagnoses. Similarly, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia does not exclude the presence of other clinically important illnesses.

Recent research looking into the composition of gut bacteria of individuals with fibromyalgia has identified distinct differences between the gut microbiome in individuals with fibromyalgia compared with those without this condition.

Fibromyalgia: Possible Triggers

The underlying cause of fibromyalgia is not known but triggering events or conditions have been thought to contribute to the development of fibromyalgia. The pain may be triggered and worsened by infections, injury, inflammation, or emotional stress.

Possible triggers include:

  • Infection (viral, bacterial, parasitic, etc.)

  • Head Injury

  • Neurological injury

  • Exposure to toxins

  • Stress

  • PTSD

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Poor mitochondrial function that leads to hypothalamic dysfunction

Fibromyalgia tends to occur in families, however no specific genes have yet been found that predispose someone to getting it. The risk for fibromyalgia is higher in people who experience other conditions such as chronic back pain, lupus, polymyalgia rheumatica, spondyloarthritis, osteoarthritis, inflammatory myopathy, systemic inflammatory arthropathies, hypothyroidism, endometriosis, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).