Q: My sister was just diagnosed with fibromyalgia. What is it?
The doctor says… Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic health condition affecting approximately two percent of Canadians. Patients experience widespread, fluctuating pain and tenderness on both sides of the body in the muscles, spine and joints, lasting more than three months.
In addition, patients suffer fatigue, headaches, morning stiffness, have trouble thinking and remembering (also known as “fibro fog”), and sometimes experience symptoms like irritable bowel, and heat and/or cold intolerance.
FM occurs more often in women, usually starting in middle age when we are at the peak of our performance in life.
There is often a family history or the individual has a rheumatic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or osteoarthritis. There are no laboratory or imaging tests to detect it, but a family physician will order tests to rule out other conditions.
No one knows what causes FM, but it is often triggered by an injury, especially one to the neck, infection, or stress overload. There is no cure, but various medications can help reduce symptoms.
This form of fibromyalgia treatment can help
FM varies in severity among individuals. Some patients find it an inconvenience, while others are affected more significantly. For some of my patients, the condition has an impact on every aspect of their lives.
If your sister is on the more severe end of the spectrum, she may not be able to return to the life she considered “normal” before. However, in the Environmental Health Clinic at Women’s College Hospital, we help patients to establish the best new normal by working with them on what we call our “Weed, SEEDS, and Feed” program, which includes the following steps:
- Weed out significant stressors in your life.
- Plant the SEEDS of health, an acronym focusing on sleep, exercise, environment, diet, and support. Some examples of actions include: Sleep — having regular bed and wake-up times and reducing screen time before bed (Here’s exactly what your smartphone is doing to your health.); Exercise — increasing gradually, pacing according to activities; Environment — removing harmful substances from your home and personal use; Diet — avoiding junk food, eating lots of fruits and vegetables; Support — from symptom-relieving medications or massage, and household help from family and friends.
- Feed whatever helps.
Many patients with FM have found that this program offers hope, and is often boosted by the gradual improvement they experience as the SEEDS grow!
Dr. Lynn Marshall is a staff physician, Environmental Health Clinic, Women’s College Hospital, womenshealthmatters.ca.