About Fibromyalgia

af1Why Fibromyalgia is a Syndrome and Not a Disease..

By  Deirdre RawlingsND, PhD, MH, CNC

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic complex syndrome that causes pain, stiffness, and tenderness of the muscles, tendons, joints, and other soft tissues.  In FM, there is a generalized disturbance of the way in which pain is processed by the body whereby ordinary non-painful sensations are experienced as pain sensations.  In addition to pain and tenderness, fibromyalgia is also characterized by fatigue, restless sleep, awakening feeling tired, morning stiffness, headaches, and dizziness, trouble with concentration, depression, anxiety, and inactivity.  It has been associated with stress, tension, trauma, overexertion, hormone deficiency diseases (particularly thyroid disease), and alterations in brain chemistry, anemia, parasites, and viral infections.



Syndrome refers to the association of several clinically recognizable features, signs, symptoms, or characteristics, which occur together.  It derives from the Greek and means literally “run together,” as the features do.  In medical language, a syndrome refers only to the set of detectable characteristics.    Diseases, on the other hand, tend to have known causes and well-understood mechanisms for producing symptoms.   The cause of FM is not completely known and this is why it’s categorized as a syndrome.  Other conditions that are also classified as syndromes, for example, include AIDS, irritable bowel, chronic fatigue, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.   Fibromyalgia is a constellation of symptoms occurring together resulting in a system that’s exhausted and overloaded.
The word “fibromyalgia’ is derived from the Greek “algia”, meaning pain, “myo”, indicating muscle, and the Latin, “fibro,” meaning the connective tissue of tendons and ligaments.  Fibromyalgia is referred to as a syndrome rather than a disease.  The term

af2 What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Although there has been considerable international investigation devoted to understanding FM, no single cause factor has yet been identified.  Experts in the field disagree as to what are its causes therefore FM is often classified as a rheumatic disorder, similar in origin to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or it is also described as an autoimmune disorder because it often develops along with other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or Lupus Erythematosis.  Unlike the stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis though, pain from fibromyalgia typically does not diminish with activity.  The pain is made worse by cold, damp weather, overexertion, anxiety or stress.  Researchers have found elevated levels of a nerve chemical signal, called substance P, and nerve growth factor in the spinal fluid of FM patients.

The brain chemical, serotonin is also relatively low in patients with FM.  In the central nervous system, serotonin is believed to play an important role in the regulation of our moods, sleep, impulses, appetites, and motivations.  Low levels of serotonin are associated with several disorders including FM, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, and others.  The food you eat has the potential to raise or lower your serotonin levels.  That’s why the ingredients of a meal have such a powerful impact on the way you feel after you eat it.  The body makes serotonin out of an amino acid called Tryptophan.  Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and Tryptophan is found in abundance in all high-protein foods, such as dairy products, eggs, meat and fish.  Vegetarians also have many good sources for Tryptophan, including seeds, nuts, and a number of vegetables.  When these foods are digested, their amino acids, including Tryptophan, enter the bloodstream and are carried to tissues that will use them to synthesize the body’s own proteins and other essential molecules, including serotonin.  Of all the chemicals present in the brain, healthy serotonin levels are probably the most important for the maintenance of an overall sensation of well being.  That is why serotonin is known as Mother Nature’s “feel good chemical”.   Later, we will discuss this in more detail as well as the best food sources to eat which raise serotonin levels and lift moods.

In FM, there is a definite lowering of the immune system defenses and this can set the scene or leave the door open to invading bacteria, virus, and infections.  Often times we are not aware that our body is going into defense mode to fight off some virus or bacteria that is attacking us.   FM can be brought on by a combination of triggers such as stress, toxins, infections, and diet so it is vital to improve your health on every level in order to build the immune system back up.   You will learn about many of the ways you can do that in this book.

It is also firmly established that a central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction is primarily responsible for the increased pain sensitivity of fibromyalgia.  A dysfunction in the CNS also causes problems in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which in turn feeds back to the CNS.  Dysfunction in CNS and ANS can lead to thyroid and adrenal problems and other hormonal abnormalities, which are common findings in many FM sufferers.  In any event, FM leaves the sufferer with a wide range of symptom fluctuations and high levels of debilitating pain, which can be as disabling as rheumatoid arthritis and results in at least 30 percent of sufferers unable to continue in their customary lifestyle and occupations due to the unrelenting exhaustion, and depletion of their overall energy and vitality.

af3Whom Does Fibromyalgia Affect?

Fibromyalgia is widespread, affecting between 6 and 15 percent of the adult population in the United States and is most commonly diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 20 and 50.  It may also occur at any age though, even in childhood, and is 7 times more common in women than men.  The current incidence of FM in women is approximately 3.5% and increases with age to more than 7% between the ages of 60 and 79 (Wolfe, Ross, Anderson, Et al. 1995).

Common Medical Treatments for Fibromyalgia

Even though the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized fibromyalgia as a true illness and a major cause of disability in 1987, many physicians today still lack the skills to diagnose and treat it effectively.  Diagnosis is made more difficult in fibromyalgia because the symptoms are so diverse and vary among sufferers.   It is not uncommon for a sufferer to see as many as 12 physicians before getting a confirmed diagnosis.  This can delay the onset of treatment interventions and curative measures and drive the patient into a downward spiral of despair and depression.   For many, a timely and accurate diagnosis of the problem offers them a great sense of relief.  It helps to finally learn what it is and know that it’s a recognized illness and get confirmation, that it’s not all in their heads and they’re not going crazy.  Numerous sufferers have been told this.

FM patients are usually offered a variety of pharmaceutical drugs by their physicians. Pain-relievers, NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, SRI’s and anti-depressant drugs are all popular, but none have proven particularly helpful.  Attempts to focus on a specific set of symptoms, such as the aching and stiffness, for example, are counterproductive because these are symptoms of a pervasive life-problem that you have to solve at its source.  To date, no person has ever been cured of fibromyalgia by drugs alone. The treatment programs must be individualized for each person.  They are most effective when they combine revision of diet with the addition of proper nutritional support, patient education, stress reduction and lifestyle modification techniques, and regular exercise. Research studies have verified that the best outcome for each person results from a combination of approaches that involves addressing the problem at its source and of which diet is a major factor.

af4Associated Disorders

People with fibromyalgia are said to have associated symptoms from other primary diagnoses.  They in fact have multi-system symptoms because there are various systems in the body which are affected by the disorder and exhibit such a wide array of symptoms.  There are a number of other disorders that can produce many of the same symptoms as fibromyalgia.  Other disorders known to produce similar symptoms are:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lupus Erythematosis
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Tension myositis syndrome
  • Mercury toxicity
  • Lyme disease
  • Influenza
  • Gulf War syndrome
  • Thyroid disease
  • Tendonitis
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Lead poisoning
  • Influenza
  • Depression
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • mitral valve prolapse
  • Raynaud’s syndrome and
  • Rheumatic disease.

af5It is seldom to see a fibromyalgia sufferer who does not exhibit some other health problem.   Greater than sixty percent of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia have chronic digestive disorders and more than half have symptoms suggestive of allergy to food and airborne allergens.  Many are overweight and have blood sugar abnormalities.   There is an obvious biochemical upset and imbalance occurring with fibromyalgia and this leads us again to nutrition and to the importance of closely scrutinizing our diet.

Click here for more information on Foods for Fibromyalgia – Wellness Coaching Programs

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