What are the signs of fibromyalgia?
This blog will look at how natural remedies can help treat the common symptoms of fibromyalgia which are:
- Sleep problems
- Digestive issues
- Brain fog
- Sensory problems.
You may experience all of these symptoms, some of them, or perhaps you have different symptoms altogether. For some people, these symptoms are present every day, whilst for others, they will come and go. This is not to mention the fact that symptoms can vary in intensity each day. Now you know why it is so frustrating for you and your doctor when trying to diagnose this condition! So, let's take a closer look at the problem to get a better understanding of it.
Who is at risk of fibromyalgia?
It isn't clear why fibromyalgia affects some people and not others; however, studies are clear that it appears to affect more women than men.1 It has also been suggested that high stress levels, poor eating habits and sleep problems can all contribute to its onset.
Many fibromyalgia sufferers experience sleep problems, plus pain can make it more difficult to switch off at night.
Whilst you are asleep the body undergoes many restorative processes, meaning that if you fail to get a good night's sleep, these can't happen. This may help explain why people who sleep badly have also been known to feel more pain.
How can I sleep better with fibromyalgia?
- Make sure your bed is as comfortable as possible – as fibromyalgia sufferers often struggle to sleep due to pain, it's important to ensure your sleep position, mattress and pillows are not contributing to this discomfort.
- Improve your sleep environment – eliminate light, noise and distractions such as phones to make it easier to sleep.
- Try not to nap during the day – this will help create a routine and make it easier to sleep at night.
- Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, before bedtime – these put your nervous system on red alert, rather than helping it to reach a relaxed state in preparation for sleep.
- Try a herbal remedy - a combination of Valerian and Hops, which are both soothing and naturally sedative herbs, taken just before bed can help you to achieve more restful and deeper sleep, as well as helping to promote a better sleep pattern. Valerian has also been used traditionally as a muscle relaxant.
One of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia is widespread pain. This might be a deep throbbing ache, a stabbing pain, or a burning sensation. It can be felt throughout the body but is often concentrated in certain areas, such as your neck or back. The pain can often affect a sufferer's ability to carry on with day-to-day tasks.
When diagnosing fibromyalgia most doctors rely on locating pain trigger points on the body.
What can I do to relieve fibromyalgia pain?
- Increase your magnesium intake – a lack of magnesium can exacerbate pain, plus it makes it harder for our muscles to relax. Try including magnesium-rich foods in your diet such as dark leafy greens, beans, grains and pulses to keep levels of this important nutrient topped up.
- Reduce your caffeine intake – cut out or reduce the amount of tea and coffee you drink, as caffeine increases nerve pain and lowers magnesium levels.
- Exercise more – gentle exercise, such as swimming, yoga and walking, has been found to have a number of important benefits for people with fibromyalgia, including helping to reduce pain.2 It is sensible to increase your exercise levels gradually but be careful not to overdo it.
- Take Devil's Claw – due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties, Devil's claw may be used to relieve inflammatory pain accompanying fibromyalgia.
Stress and anxiety
As well as having a number of physical symptoms associated with it, fibromyalgia is also linked to several emotional symptoms, including stress and anxiety. There is a lot of worry around fibromyalgia, especially as it is a relatively unexplained condition. This worry can then lead to anxiety, which is often increased by stressful situations, or the stress of dealing with troublesome symptoms.
These emotional responses have also been linked to increased nerve responses to stimuli, including touch. This makes those with fibromyalgia hypersensitive to physical sensations, particularly pain. Additionally, anxiety can cause muscle tension, resulting in tenderness and pain. Stress, meanwhile, can cause poor sleep. All of this can impact the many physical symptoms of fibromyalgia.
What can you do about stress and anxiety?
- Breathe slowly and fully for a count of ten – slow, deep breathing can relieve nervous tension, anxiety and reduce the stress response of the body. Look at our blog on breathing tips for stress for guidance.
- Take time to relax – read a good book, go for a walk or have a bath. Take time out and distract yourself from your worries.
- Laugh more – laughter produces the feel-good chemical serotonin, which can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Perk yourself up by watching something funny, or talk to a good friend who can help you see the bright side of things
- Seek further help – make time to see a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist to learn tools that can help you manage stress, anxiety and pain.
People with fibromyalgia often experience fatigue and find that they get tired easily.
What can I do to reduce fatigue?
- Keep stress to a minimum – being stressed can sap your energy, thus causing more fatigue. You could try a gentle remedy such as Stress Relief Daytime if you are struggling.
- Exercise can help again – while this may be the last thing you feel like doing, lack of exercise has been linked with tiredness. Try a simple activity like regular walks to begin with and then gradually add in more variety.
- Stay hydrated – dehydration is another thing that can quickly sap your energy so it's important to drink plenty of plain water. Remember, fizzy water and even herbal teas do not count!
- Address sleep issues – obviously poor sleep quality can cause you to feel more tired, so it's important to get a good night's sleep. Take a look at our pages on tackling sleep problems for more information.
People suffering from fibromyalgia can experience a whole variety of digestive problems, including bloating, excess wind, stomach pain, diarrhoea and constipation. These symptoms can often be diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
How do you deal with digestive issues?
- Check your medicine – digestive problems could be a side effect of a prescribed medication that you are taking for fibromyalgia or another condition. Speak to your doctor and don't stop taking medication unless advised.
- Avoid caffeine and refined sugar as much as possible – these are difficult for your digestive system to cope with and can result in digestive problems.
- Try to eat more slowly – chewing your food more allows it to be digested more easily and reduces the risk of digestive problems, such as acid reflux, indigestion and bloating.
- Try a prebiotic - Molkosan Fruit contributes to the normal function of digestive enzymes. A delicious fermented whey drink, simply add it to water or even your favourite morning smoothie.
Those with fibromyalgia often find it difficult to concentrate and can have trouble remembering things or learning new things. This 'fibro-fog' can lead to frustration, increasing stress and anxiety levels.
How do you deal with brain fog?
- Get a good night's sleep – 'fibro-fog' can worsen after a night of poor sleep, so it's even more important to address any sleep issues.
- Make lists – to-do lists, shopping lists and diaries are good, practical ways to tackle this problem and can help you to feel more in control.
- Have some game time – cognitive games, such as crosswords, brain teasers (like the ones below) and Sudoku keep the brain working and can help to reduce episodes of fibro-fog -plus they are fun to do!
People with fibromyalgia tend to suffer from three different types of headache: muscle tension headaches, migraines and combination headaches. Headaches can make fibromyalgia even harder to deal with. As, aside from being very painful, headaches can also cause even more problems with concentration (fibro-fog), sleep and difficulty controlling emotions.
How do I manage fibromyalgia headaches?
- Avoid becoming dehydrated – not drinking enough water can contribute to headaches.
- Eat more foods rich in magnesium – magnesium can help relieve headaches, so it's important to eat more magnesium-rich foods.
- Eat regularly – this will help to stabilise your blood sugar levels. Plummeting blood sugar levels can result in headaches so, rather than eating one or two big meals a day, try to eat smaller amounts more regularly.
Fibromyalgia can make your joints feel stiff and it is often at its worst in the morning. This makes it difficult to get going for the day ahead as movement can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful.
How do you relieve body stiffness?
- Have a warm bath or shower – heat relaxes the muscles and encourages them to loosen up.
- Stretch it out – perform gentle stretches at night before going to bed and in the morning when you get up to ease stiffness. Check out our blog 'Easy stretches to do at your desk' for guidance!
- Devil's Claw – this natural remedy not only helps to ease pain (as mentioned above), it is also useful in helping to ease muscle and joint stiffness. Also, Arnica gel can be applied to the affected area to ease pain and stiffness during a painful episode.
Sensitivity to bright light, noise, tastes and smells are common among fibromyalgia sufferers. It is thought that the pain associated with fibromyalgia occurs because of over-activity in the sensory receptors, so it is likely that, for this reason, other senses become more alert and responsive too.
How do you deal with sensory problems?
Identify what's causing your sensitivity and manage it – keeping a diary could help as you can note down when you experience sensitivities and, if possible, what has caused them. This can help identify ways to handle your sensory overload. For example, you may need to start wearing sunglasses if you find lights too bright or avoid strong smells from air fresheners and scented candles if these prove too much.
Originally published 21 October 2015 (updated 13 May 2020)