7 Things You Didn’t Know About Fibromyalgia
For decades, the condition of Fibromyalgia was not understood, and it was frequently misdiagnosed as symptoms mimicked other more common conditions. The global medical community understands the condition far better today, but historically, it has been misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus and malignancy. Conditions that also present with widespread or localized pain that is recurrent and chronic fatigue. While researchers are working to pinpoint the cause(s) of Fibromyalgia, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), has stated recently that there are about 5 million American adults, over the age of 18, who have been diagnosed with the condition. And approximately 80% of the diagnosed cases of fibromyalgia, are female patients.
Recent research has started to link certain types of food choices, and artificial preservatives with increased pain symptoms, for individuals with fibromyalgia. While more clinical evaluation is needed to clarify some of the findings, what foods should patients be aware of as possible triggers to symptoms of widespread pain? If you have been diagnosed, or if you know someone who is struggling with the condition, here are some interesting studies and nutritional theories that should be discussed with a personal physician, as they may provide a link to better symptom management.
Life with Fibromyalgia and Unpredictable Pain Symptoms
For individuals with Fibromyalgia, life means scheduling activities of daily living around an unpredictable, and sometimes debilitating experience of pain and discomfort. The condition has very few patterns, which is another reason why patients are frequently misdiagnosed. It is called the ‘invisible disease’ because of the lack of pattern in pain symptoms, and random experience of extreme discomfort, to days without discomfort at all. Pain symptoms are experienced in soft tissues, and are not localized to joint pain, the way that arthritis presents for some patients. Fibromyalgia pain can be localized to the neck and shoulders, or it can be experienced more frequently on one side of the body. The pain can also radiate down the spine and into the legs, mimicking sciatica.
Some of the common symptoms for patients include:
- Sensitivity to light, sound or noise.
- Tingling or loss of sensation in extremities, like arms, legs, fingers and toes.
- Headaches and chronic migraines.
- Dizziness and imbalance.
- Disrupted sleep.
- Thinking or memory problems (referred to as a pain related ‘fibro fog’).
- Urinary and bowel disturbances.
Individuals who have other clinically diagnosed conditions, also report increased pain and other symptoms. Fibromyalgia impacts individuals with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and endometriosis, by amplifying pain and inflammation, although clinical studies are not conclusive about the link, or whether exacerbated pain is a result of increased anxiety and stress, and cortisol levels, related to experiencing chronic discomfort. The impact of sometimes severe and chronic pain on cognitive functioning, is referred to as the ‘Fibromyalgia Fog’. Difficulties concentrating, and impairment to short-term memory are consistent with daily chronic pain conditions, and can make simple tasks in the workplace or home, frustrating and more difficult.
In an online survey conducted by WebMD, 3,000 diagnosed respondents revealed the negative impacts of Fibromyalgia on daily life.
- 98% of participants said that they have to plan their day around a varying pain level, and cognitive and physical abilities that change, from one day to the next.
- 68% said that the condition limited their ability to care for other family members.
- 95% of respondents said that Fibromyalgia impacted their ability to care for their children, and participate in family activities. Another 62% stated they were not confident in their ability to care for their own children, due to debilitating pain symptoms.
- 75% of participants indicated that they had consulted with a health care provider, after symptoms of Fibromyalgia interfered with work related activities.
In 2017, The Mayo Clinic stated that there was still no conclusive test to diagnose Fibromyalgia. Clinicians have to rely on identifying symptoms, and the American College of Rheumatology provides a guideline for diagnosis, that includes ‘widespread pain on both sides of the body, for a duration of three months or longer”. Unfortunately, because the condition cannot be detected on an x-ray or through a blood test, some patients experience difficulty with diagnosis. However, in 2012, Fibromyalgia was confirmed as a ‘medically determinable impairment’, with regards to eligibility for social security disability benefits, which helped to improve diagnoses rates and awareness of the condition.
Foods and Preservatives That Are Suspected of Triggering Pain Symptoms
As with many health conditions, researchers first evaluate a dietary or nutritional link. Some of the foods and additives that have been clinically evaluated as possible symptom triggers for patients with Fibromyalgia include:
- Dairy products (cheese, milk, yoghurt)
- Sodium Nitrite
An interesting study was conducted by researchers at the Malcolm Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Florida. In the study, patients with Fibromyalgia eliminated consumption of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame from their diets (excitotoxins). All participants in the study experienced a strong to complete resolution of pain symptoms within months after modifying their diet. The study proposed that food additives may activate neurons that increase the sensitivity to pain, for individuals with Fibromyalgia.
Dietary Supplements Used Therapeutically for Fibromyalgia Symptom Management
As the clinical causes of Fibromyalgia are not completely understood, it is not possible to say that dietary supplements can help every individual, in each case. But some studies have stated that adding probiotics helps patients with Fibromyalgia, by reducing digestive inflammation (particularly for individuals with IBS). Other studies have demonstrated positive results from nutritional supplements like black cohosh, milk thistle, and B-complex vitamin therapies, but research is limited on successful long-term use of the supplements therapeutically, for symptom management. Talk to your physician before adding any nutritional supplement or dietary aid, to your daily plan.
How You Can Contribute to Learning More About Fibromyalgia
The United States National Library of Medicine maintains a volunteer list, for clinical researchers around the world, who are seeking participants for studies on Fibromyalgia. Visit the website to learn more about contributing to the dialogue about the condition, as a patient advocate.