Just as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) burdens patients and doctors with many indications, evasive causes and lack of a cure, fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) baffles with its own unbearable constellation of symptoms, ineffective standard treatment protocols and multiple potential causes. Marked by chronic widespread pain, particularly that which does not seem to come from a usual source, along with an increased sensitivity to pain, millions of people (mostly women) suffer with this condition. FMS patients also struggle with severe fatigue, cognitive and behavioral problems, joint stiffness, depression and unrestful sleep.
Fibromyalgia is an extremely frustrating condition for both patients and health practitioners. It is difficult to diagnose and treat as there are no specific tests or biomarkers for diagnosis. The prescribed drugs are often ineffective and patients report feelings of not being supported by practitioners and the larger community. Doctors demonstrate a large degree of uncertainty when dealing with the illness. Many feel inadequately trained to deal with fibromyalgia and that their patients have difficulty describing their symptoms, and many say that it is difficult to distinguish fibromyalgia symptoms from those of other conditions. Psychiatrists are the least confident among the specialists. The fact that every fibromyalgia patient’s experience is unique makes this condition particularly tricky for all concerned.
FMS can be debilitating. For a person with fibromyalgia, feeling “well” may just simply mean that she has the “strength to be involved.” It is common in patients with autoimmune disorders and may in fact be an immunologic disorder. Last year researchers observed that a distinct tissue pathology of shunts in the hands of fibromyalgia patients could interfere with blood flow to the muscles and that it was possible for this to contribute to the rest of the symptoms faced by these individuals. This is an interesting finding contributing to a physiological understanding of the disease.
Late last year two studies revealed interesting associations between fibromyalgia and the thyroid, pituitary and hypothalamus. Unfortunately, many doctors still use the TSH test as the primary indicator of thyroid function, which is woefully incorrect. In thyroiditis, for example, an inflamed thyroid causes the symptoms of fibromyalgia. A TSH test may come back “normal” when in fact the patient has a deficiency like low T3. Similarly, patients with autoimmune thyroid disease and hypothalamic-pituitary disorders can display symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Dr. Amy Myers focuses on getting to the root cause of fibromyalgia rather than just managing symptoms. She has identified 10 potential causes of the illness, which include vitamin deficiencies, leaky gut, adrenal fatigue, glutathione deficiency and MTHFR gene mutations. FMS is thought to have a genetic component and MTHFR gene mutations are a very important contributor to fibromyalgia.
As I discussed in my post on CFS/ME, Dr. Paul Anderson of Anderson Medical Specialty Associates in Seattle found a higher prevalence of these mutations among a group of CFS and fibromyalgia patients than in the normal population, particularly homozygous C677T and compound heterozygous C677T/A1298C defects. Treating these patients with a methylation protocol that included methylfolate, methylcobalamin (B12), folinic acid and a vitamin B complex that contained the active forms resulted in significant increases in positive patient outcomes compared to the standard naturopathic treatment protocol. I’ve provided more details on this in my post on CFS/ME.
Like chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia is also seen as a condition of mitochondrial dysfunction. Treatment with D-Ribose has been shown to improve symptoms and quality of life in one study. High-dose thiamine has also been found to improve symptoms. Additionally, patients should be checked for elevated homocysteine and heavy metal toxicity. While adequate treatment depends on eliminating the root cause of fibromyalgia, the practices of Tai-Chi, qigong, acupuncture, hypnosis and aquatic physical therapy may assist in the management of symptoms.
Do you suffer from fibromyalgia symptoms? What have you learned about this condition and what treatments have helped you?