Understanding Fibromyalgia

Woman in pain

Fibromyalgia is a long-term chronic condition that causes widespread pain all over the body. Despite 1 in 50 Irish people suffering with fibromyalgia, it’s still underdiagnosed and lacking in understanding. Researchers believe fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way the brain and nervous system process pain signals. Those living with fibromyalgia often report feeling very lethargic despite adequate periods of sleep. One of the biggest frustrations for patients is that because their pain isn’t visible, they often feel unseen or unheard.

Symptoms to Look Out For

Symptoms often begin after an event, such as physical trauma, surgery or psychological stress. In other cases, there is no triggering event with symptoms accumulating gradually over time. Common symptoms to look out for include:

  • Pain and stiffness all over the body.

  • Fatigue and tiredness.

  • Depression and anxiety.

  • Cognitive difficulties.

  • Sleep problems.

  • Problems with thinking, memory, and concentration.

  • Headaches, including migraines.

Widespread Pain

The pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients is described a constant dull ache that lasts three months or more. Widespread refers to pain that occurs on both sides of your body (left and right) and both above and below the waist.

Chronic Fatigue

Fibromyalgia patients report feeling tired despite sleeping for long periods of time. Due to the nature of the symptoms, sleep is often interrupted by pain and many suffer with co-existing sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome.

Woman sad

Cognitive Difficulties

‘Fibro fog’ is a commonly occurring symptom that affects concentration as well as the ability to focus.

Mood Disorders

The constant discomfort of fibromyalgia can lead to mental health issues. Over time the relentless pain can wear a person down physically and emotionally causing the nervous system to work overtime. A recent study noted that people with fibromyalgia are three times more likely to have depression than those who don’t have the condition.

Managing Your Pain

 While there is no cure for fibromyalgia there are various ways you can help manage the symptoms.

  • Exercise is a great way to manage pain and to help with sleep difficulties. It’s important to keep it light and do something you like – yoga, stretching, swimming and walking are great ways to get the body moving without overextending yourself.
  • Sleep is a proven way to boost wellbeing. Take short naps throughout the day to combat fatigue and create a bedtime routine that incorporates good sleep hygiene to give yourself the best chance at a good night sleep.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are a great way to help manage the pain associated with tender joints and stiffness. Sources include salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds or alternatively can be found in supplements.
  • Build a support network of family, friends and colleagues who are aware of your symptoms and who can recognise when you might need some extra support or relief. Having a support network in place who understand the symptoms of fibromyalgia may help you feel more seen and heard.
  • Take some time to yourself each day to de-stress by doing something you enjoy. Whether that’s deep breathing exercises, meditation or listening to music or painting – doing something each day to connect with what you love can help you build inner resources. 

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition and is currently without a cure but by putting some structures in place to support yourself, you can manage the symptoms and live a full life.

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