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Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Both fibromyalgia (FM) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can be like seeing a mythological creature: your friends don’t believe you, but you know it’s real. It’s next to impossible for people who don’t have these conditions to understand just how difficult life becomes, and for patients with FM or CFS, finding compassionate support from knowledgeable health care providers can be just as difficult.
Fibromyalgia creates musculoskeletal pain all over the body plus a heightened sensitivity to pain and pressure. Patients are often extremely fatigued, have irregular sleep patterns, cognitive dysfunction, and often have other symptoms like tingling, muscle spasms, muscle weakness, and bowel problems. There is a correlation between fibromyalgia and some mental health disorders, like PTSD and anxiety. Around 80% of FM patients are female, and around 450,000 Canadians and almost 4 million Americans are living with the condition.
In the past, you needed to have 18 specific tender points on your body to get a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Nowadays, doctors have recognized that the syndrome takes on more forms than just the tender points, and they aren’t required for a diagnosis anymore. Patients are now examined using widespread pain index (WPI) and symptom severity (SS) scales. These tests look at pain throughout the body, along with other symptoms like fatigue and brain fog. The symptoms will need to have been present for at least 3 months, and no other diagnosis is able to explain them.
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, and it seems as though patients get more and more sensitive over time. It’s common to find that FM patients are also very sensitive to artificial scents, tobacco smoke, and other sources of environmental chemicals.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is the most common name for a clinical picture that involves extreme fatigue that is not relieved by rest- weird, right?. The other names include myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and post-viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS), and several support groups and research organizations have adopted ME/CFS as their preferred name for the illness.
CFS can look a lot like fibromyalgia, but there are a couple of differences. CFS usually appears suddenly, sometimes after a viral infection and sometimes without an identifiable trigger. A person can feel fine, get sick, and then doesn’t get well. The fatigue worsens, and other symptoms, like brain fog, pain, and difficulty being upright may appear.
One of the most important distinctions with CFS is that exercise makes the fatigue worse and can bring on illness and fever. Other diseases that can look similar, like clinical depression, tend to improve with exercise. Like fibromyalgia, the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, and it’s common for ME/CFS patients to have multiple chemical sensitivities.
Treatment of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The conventional medical treatment of FM and CFS tends to not be very promising. Fibromyalgia treatments include antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, and opiates, all of which can decrease pain but don’t provide a cure. CFS treatment is often more psychological and includes cognitive behavioral therapy and energy management strategies, and the recovery rate for these conventional methods is low.
On the other hand, naturopathic medicine can be very successful in treating FM and CFS. An important first step is ruling out any chronic infections that may be causing your symptoms. This may include comprehensive lab testing to check for things like Lyme disease, mono, lupus, parasites, and other chronic illnesses.
Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome can both be extremely debilitating, and naturopathic doctors use a holistic, whole-body approach to optimize your health and well-being, reduce your pain, and improve your energy levels as much as possible. Acupuncture, diet interventions, and intravenous vitamin therapy can all be effective in improving your symptoms and getting you functioning again.