Read these 69 Symptoms and Signs Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Fibromyalgia tips and hundreds of other topics.
Sometimes our senses can become so acute that sounds a normal person can't even hear can drive us crazy. Try using earplugs or even stuffing some cotton in your ears to cut down on the sound levels. Be careful that you don't block out all sense of hearing – we need some warnings to things like approaching traffic to be safe. Earplugs are probably your best solution.
Fibro often causes us to be hypersensitive to fluorescent lights (sound and flicker), bright lights, motion, sound, skin, heat and/or cold, electromagnetic sensitivity, odors (smell too much or too little). Lights seem brighter, sounds louder and more annoying – actually they are louder. Try coping devices like sunglasses, ear plugs, carrying a scented cloth to combat odor sensitivities, wearing soft fabrics that won't irritate over-sensitive skin. This hypersensitivity is part of what makes going out in public so exhausting.
One thing that interferes with sleep - and daily life as well - is the unpredictable changes in body temperature that seem to occur with fibro patients. Use natural fiber bedding, as it will allow your skin to breathe and not trap sweat. A light down blanket or comforter and a sheet should do the trick most of the year, as it seems to adjust to body temperatures easily. During the day, dress in layers that you can put on or take off as needed.
The odd thing about muscular weakness with fibro is that it is often temporary. You may find that for a while you have trouble picking up a cup of coffee – and then one day you can, but then your ankle starts giving way if you're not careful. Muscular (or connective tissue) weakness in fibro moves around a lot. Many people find that an ace bandage or other muscular support device is enough to allow them to function almost normally.
Handwriting difficulties can be purely muscular. If the connective tissues in the hand are causing a problem, then you'll find that it's difficult to control your pen. Sometimes simply trying out pens of different sizes and shapes – and even point types (felt tip, fine, medium, gel, etc.) will help you to find one that allows you to write with some degree of comfort- although this may still not guarantee legibility.
Since FMS affects our connective tissues, it can weaken our grip – or create problems with other limbs. But FMS rarely affects all connective tissues to the same degree at the same time, so the problem areas travel. Your grip can be so weak you need two hands to support a cup of coffee one week – and fine the next. A supportive bandage can be very helpful during times when this is a problem.
Ultra-sensitivity to sensations occurs with about half of those diagnosed with fibro. Sound can be magnified to the point where it becomes unbearable; you can hear your watch battery running, or the sound of someone nearby swallowing normally. Lights become blinding, odors overwhelm. The sensitivity comes and goes.
Fibro patients can be abnormally sensitive to cold or hot weather. They are often cold when others are hot, or hot when most people are comfortable – and can also have chills while sweating. Dressing in layers seems to be the best way to deal with this, as you can always take something off or put something on until you reach relative comfort.
People with fibro often find that their bodies swell slightly -almost imperceptibly - over the course of the day due to fluid in the tissues. Clothes that were comfortable in the morning can be acutely uncomfortable by evening. Wear clothes that are loose-fitting and adjustable to minimize the discomfort.
Many women in their 40s and 50s assume that the sweats they experience are simply hot flashes. Don't be fooled. Men with fibro get these sweats, as do non-menopausal women. Dressing in layers helps, as when the sweats start you can peel a couple off. Have tissue handy because sometimes the sweat can be so copious that it rolls into your eyes.
One cause of handwriting difficulty is cognitive – it's common for people with FMS to transpose letters when writing and typing – an acquired dyslexia that makes it even harder to write legibly and sensibly. Try to stick to the computer if at all possible, because your days handwritten things can get so full of cross outs before you finally get all the letters in the right order, that your hand is then too tired to write legibly.
Fatigue can range from just feeling abnormally tired to feeling so exhausted that it's hard to move. Not only is the body tired, but the brain is fatigued as well, so that concentration is difficult and your short-term memory often fails you. Some doctors believe that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is closely tied to fibro; many people suffer from both. Despite naps and hours of sleep, the body never really gets to the restorative sleep stage and so feels unrested.
Unexplained, low-grade fever seems typical for people with fibro. Make a habit of taking and recording your temperature daily at a couple of different times. Many of us tend to have a regular body temperature that is abnormally low. This can mean that the standard "normal" temperature can feel like fever to you. If you typically read low, you want your doctor to understand this.
Either you have too much appetite (with the usual frustrating weight gain), or you have too little, and lose weight without actually trying to diet. As a result, fibromites often experience weight gains or losses that are somewhat abnormal. What IS normal is that people who suffer from chronic pain tend to suffer from at least some degree of depression as a result of the chronic nature of that pain – and depression often leads to abnormal appetite. Increased appetite is also a side effect of some medications normally prescribed for muscle relaxation - low-dose amitriptyline and cyclobenzaprine.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is common with fibro. Your legs feel tense and almost painful, and the need to keep moving them trying to find a comfortable position is intense – except you rarely manage to find that position. Many doctors prescribe quinine tablets for this – but a bottle of quinine water – the stuff you use to mix a vodka and tonic – will work in a pinch. Take a few swigs as soon as you feel the sensation coming on and you may even be able to head it off.
Acquired dyslexia is not like the dyslexia that is commonly listed as a learning disability. What acquired dyslexia means is that you may suddenly find yourself transposing letters as you type or write. The brain is sending confused messages to your hands and fingers. Your reading and spelling ability is intact – it just refuses to translate to your hands. If you must compose and send out important documents try proofreading them backwards – last word first – and you will have a better chance to catch any errors.
Joints may feel as if they hurt, but in reality FMS is a syndrome that affects the connective tissues that surround the joint, making it seem as if the joints themselves are hurting. (Of course, many fibromites also have arthritis - in which case the joints really do hurt as well.) This isn't surprising, as it has recently been found that the main problem in FMS is probably an aberration of the central pain mechanism, which involves neuroendocrine and immune dysfunctions.
Chronic severe headaches resembling migraines, or resembling tension headaches, occur in about half of those suffering from fibro. This further complicates the accompanying fatigue and fog (mental confusion.) If you have headache, fatigue and confusion you should be tested for FMS.
If you find that your scalp is itchy, and then when you scratch you seem to come away with tiny "scabs" under your fingernails then you probably have clogged hair follicles. The scabs are actually little plugs of hardened oil. Jojoba oil is a miracle worker here. You can apply it straight, let it sit for a while and shampoo out. Or just use a shampoo that already contains it. If you can't find that, you can add a tablespoon to your favorite regular shampoo – just make sure to shake well before using.
Nausea - A couple of drops of peppermint oil in honey can soothe this; in an emergency, just inhale the peppermint and surprisingly the nausea often recedes quickly. Liquid Maalox also helps. In a pinch, try eating something starchy that will absorb excess stomach acid – it often relieves the nausea as well. It seems perverse to recommend that someone who is nauseated eat something – but think about pregnant women with morning sickness and how they get relief by eating soda crackers. An over the counter liquid called Emetrol is also pretty effective at controlling nausea although it tastes pretty foul.
If you notice that your deodorant doesn't seem to hold up - even when you're freshly washed, you could have a yeast problem - something common to many fibromites. Acidopholus tablets, which can be purchased over the counter, help to control yeast and should help clear up the odor.
The most commonly referred definition of Trigger Points is one from a 1983 study of myofascial pain done by Travell and Simons. According to them, a TrP is "a hyperirritable spot, usually within a taut band of skeletal muscle or in the muscles fascia. The spot is painful on compression and can give rise to characteristic referred pain, tenderness and autonomic phenomena." Trigger points can come about as the result of an acute trauma such as an accident or injury, but they can also be chronic, coming as the result of small, repeated activities that put stress on an particular area of the body.
Apparently, Malic acid has been found to stimulate the metabolism, to decrease fatigue, and helps us to metabolize carbohydrates. This helps fight the weight gain that seems to accompany the onset of fibro, and also helps to prevent problems with reactive hypoglycemia.
Important metabolic factors that affect appetite with fibro patients are sufficient levels of oxygen and the B vitamins. When there is an insufficient level of oxygen and other nutrients, the body begins to break down muscle tissues to use as fuel. At least one scientific theory suggests that this is the basic cause of fibromyalgia. Lack of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) can lead to the lack of proper oxygen in muscle tissues. Whether we have a large appetite or a small one, getting the proper types of food and the proper nutritional supplements should result in some improvement in symptoms.
Scientific evidence suggests that fibromyalgia and CFIDS symptoms are due, at least in part, to abnormal cellular metabolism. This leads to abnormal weight gain and/or loss. We can discipline our metabolism to behave with more regularity by watching our eating habits. The nutrient most often found lacking is magnesium, and that deficit also contributes to Charley horses and other cramping. Too much calcium, and too many refined carbohydrates, can deplete our supply of magnesium.
Trigger points are actually the result of the interaction of calcium and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) on muscles that have been stressed in some way. This causes a sort of contraction that shortens the muscle in a localized area, producing a taut band. This in turn generates a lot of localized and uncontrolled metabolic activity in the area, and a decrease in blood circulation, which releases substances that make the nerve endings hyperirritable – and the result is pain. In some cases, microfilaments in the muscles can occur, as well as scar tissue and adhesions.
The average fibromite gains anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds with its onset. It is partially due to our lack of REM sleep – which leads to a general slowdown of our overall activity, which leads to weight gain. During Phase 4 sleep, the body releases the growth hormone that helps us to burn fat – but we rarely get to that phase. To some extent "fat burners" like Citrimax by Twin Labs, Alphalipoic acid (manufactured by Jarrow) and CoQ10 (Also Jarrow) can help with this problem, and so can cutting back on carbohydrates.
One cause of poor sleep is pain. We may find that we wake several times in the night because of cramping, sudden muscle spasms, or simply because we get stiff and begin to hurt. Doctors often prescribe muscle relaxants instead of sleeping pills for this reason – they relax the areas that are most likely to cause us to wake in the night.
Facial and head pain, as experienced by almost 90% of all fibromyalgia patients is referred to as Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Syndrome or TMJD. It manifests itself as facial and jaw pain and tenderness, and while it feels like a joint problem, it is actually pain in the surrounding muscles and ligaments.
It may sound like a lot of hype, but those air purifier/ionizers being sold on the Internet and eBay really do help. If you suffer from allergies - especially allergies to dust, mold, and smoke, you'll see a definite improvement. People who have used them report that they sleep without congestion, take fewer allergy pills and generally feel better. Plus the brand called NeoTec xj-2000 claims to be a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Doctors prescribe Prozac and other medicines to fulfill this exact function.
If you find that you are getting ingrown hair, fibroids or adhesions – or even heavy, splitting cuticles – then you are seeing the results of tissue overgrowth, which is a typical FMS symptom. Ingrown hairs can and need to be treated with antibiotics or lanced if infected. Adhesions can lead to a lot of discomfort, but corrective surgery can actually lead to even more adhesions. Modern laser surgery techniques like the laparoscopy have improved on this to some extent.
When people with FMS sleep they rarely reach the deep sleep stage, which is why they still feel exhausted. The worst sleep nights often lead to the most painful days. This is because the growth hormone that helps to heal troubled tissues is released during that critical stage of sleep - which FMS patients rarely achieve.
Have you been on antibiotics lately? Because a sore mouth can indicate Candida, a yeast infection which can also appear in the form of a vaginal infection – or both. Apparently, the antibiotics kill off the original infection, but also destroy things that help to prevent the yeast from becoming a problem. Try rinsing your mouth with 2 drops tea tree oil in a 2 teaspoons water, which helps destroy the yeast. The oil tastes dreadful, but it's better than having it hurt to try to eat.
Allergies are not, of course, limited to fibromyalgia sufferers, but many people with fibro also seem to have allergies. While for the most part they affect the respiratory system, they can also affect our skin and internal areas by swelling and hives. Allergies can develop quite suddenly – what was fine for you one day may become a problem – even a life-threatening one, at another time. Add them to fibro and you can feel pretty dreadful. See a good allergist. Remember that it's not just food you can be allergic to, but environmental factors, and even your prescribed medications.
Someone who has never had the experience of being deafened by a watch battery will not understand exactly how sound sensitive we can be. And kids (and sometimes spouses) do need their music at a certain level, so fun times can often turn into laughter that is painful for us, and squabbles into ear-shattering racket. Media headsets – especially wireless ones – can solve many problems, allowing your family their music while moving about freely, while giving you some precious quiet.
Quality of sleep, rather than quantity, partially determines how fatigued you are. Ten hours of non-refreshing sleep, which never reaches the deep level, will leave you as tired, or more tired, when awakening than you were when you went to bed. Developing proper sleep habits – not relying on naps, rising and sleeping on a regular schedule, etc., in conjunction with medication, can help you to achieve more restful sleep. Establish a wind-down routine for bedtime and stick to it.
Many people receive at least temporary relief from soaking in a warm (not too hot) bath with Epsom salts or essential oils that are known to soothe sore muscles, such as juniper, lavender, marjoram and/or chamomile. You can add about 8 drops of essential oil to a 2 cup jar of Epsom salts, seal it and leave it for 10 days and then use as you would regular Epsom salts, with the added benefit of a nice scent and whatever therapeutic benefits the oil you chose has to offer
A lot of things that we ascribe to other problems may actually be caused by allergies, including heart palpitations, nausea and indigestion, heartburn, headaches, skin rashes and more. In fact, many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia are also symptoms (although not well recognized) of fibro. These include sleep problems and irritable bowel syndrome as well as come of the mental confusion we call "fibrofog." They occur not just because we inhaled something to which we are allergic, like dust, mold or chemicals of some kind, but often because of things we eat and even medications we take.
Keep a carafe of water, and pain or other medications that you might need during the night, right by the bed. Often you can just barely wake, take the required pill, and lie right back down without disturbing your sleep too badly. It is far preferable to waking yourself to climb out of bed. Meds that are often needed in the night could include those for restless legs, indigestion, allergies and/or pain.
Basically, most people with fibro experience a loss of interest in sex. This really isn't surprising – very few people have a lot of libido when they ache and hurt and are exhausted, and when the problem is a chronic one, for which there is little relief. To make things worse – sex can hurt because it does involve stress on our connective tissues. You must make sure that your partner understands this, and doesn't blame himself or herself.
Candida is a form of yeast infection that is common to people with FMS – among others. It frequently occurs when you are taking antibiotics for other purposes. The antibiotics seem to destroy not only the bad germs but those necessary to prevent yeast infections. If you suffer this persistently, you should see a doctor, because the infection can spread and become severe. There is a medication called Diflucan which is a one pill dose – this is supposedly sufficient to kill most vaginal yeast infections. Acidophilus, available over the counter also helps.
Try to sleep at regular times. Depending on your body clock, your times may be out of sync with the rest of the world, but listen to your body. Try to get up at about the same time, as well as trying to maintain a regular bedtime. Try not to rely on naps, as this will throw your sleep schedule out of whack.
Allodynia (skin hurts to touch) is a burning/tingling sensation on the surface of the skin. The lightest whisper of material, or the softest touch is unbearable. Sometimes just plain aspirin will relieve a bit of the pain. Wearing clothing made of very soft material such as such as silk, satin and cashmere, and also velour, knit rayon and French terry cloth also helps. Natural fibers that feel smooth and soft to the touch are best for both the allodynia and other "fibro factors".
Don't remain in one position too long. It is easy to get hooked on web surfing and remain in your chair for hours. That makes for aches. Make yourself change positions, or, better yet, get up and move a bit every 20 minutes or so. Some people use one of those large rubber inflatable exercise balls as a desk chair - they can bounce and get light aerobic exercise while seated, at the same time avoiding stiffness and encouraging better posture.
Moderate aerobic exercise is good. While weight gain is partially metabolic, it also comes from our reluctance to move much, since movement can hurt. Walking, using a treadmill, or other gentle movement exercise can help to combat some of the weight gain. Many find that exercising in water – especially a heated pool - is beneficial.
A possible preventative measure, if you feel leg cramps coming on, based on the principles of acupressure, is to grasp the indentation on your upper lip between thumb and forefinger and apply pressure for about 30 seconds. Sometimes if you do this quickly enough you can prevent the cramp from ever really taking hold.
The restless leg syndrome – a distinctly uncomfortable sensation in the legs that forces the person to keep moving them to find relief, can also disturb sleep. Some patients find that their muscles will sometimes jerk for no reason; others grind their jaws even when they are not suffering from tension. The resulting lack of rest leads to a condition referred to as “fibrofog” where the short-term memory malfunctions. Quinine is often prescribed for this. Even chugging the quinine water you use for gin and tonic provides relief.
The Mayo muscle cramp information sheet says: "Stretch the cramped muscle and gently rub the muscle to help it relax. For a calf cramp, put your weight on your cramped leg and bend your knee slightly. If you're unable to stand, try pulling your foot back toward your head while your leg is in a straightened position. This will also help ease a back thigh (hamstring) cramp. For a front thigh (quadriceps) cramp, use a chair to steady yourself and try pulling your foot on the side of the cramp up toward your buttock."
Massage can often ease muscular aches – at least for some people. It can help to break up the rope-like knotted muscles so typical of myofascial pain. But be careful – many people with fibro report that they find massage to be more painful than pleasant. Before spending money on a professional massage, have someone lightly massage your neck and shoulder area and see how it feel. If it hurts, think twice about going for the expensive job.
Sometimes a wandering weakness in the muscles can cause us to perceive that our range of motion is limited. This weakness often migrates – disappearing from one place and reappearing elsewhere, limiting that range of motion instead. Don't push yourself beyond the comfortable limits if you can avoid it. This will only lead to stress, and could cause a flare. Remember that what you can't move today – as long as the problem is strictly fibro-related – may move easily tomorrow.
Pain from TrPs can be reduced by short period of rest, which will help to avoid strain and extra irritation. Slow, steady passive stretching of involved muscles, especially when under a warm shower or bath which, because of the bath's tendency to relax those muscles, will loosen the contractions. Moist heat over the trigger point can also provide some relief, as can cold packs on the pain reference zone (the area where the pain is felt as opposed to the Trigger point which is sending the pain signal). Massage is also helpful.
At home, you may need to negotiate with other household members. If your spouse loves loud music, get earphones for him or her. Put lights on dimmer switches. Let your family know how you perceive these things. Take any steps you can to reach a compromise that will allow you some comfort level without putting them out too badly.
Get into a bedtime routine – something that allows you to wind down, and to signal your body that it is time for sleep. Keep to that routine, and eventually your body will begin to heed those signals. It could be an evening hot soak in the tub, or curling up with a good book for a while, maybe sipping warm milk, chamomile tea or a glass of wine. Whatever the routine, make it restful. Nothing stimulating here!
Candida, a yeast infection, is sometimes evident in the mouth, which may be very sore – enough to make eating difficult. Adding 3 drops of tea tree oil to about a tablespoon of water and rinsing your mouth out thoroughly once a day or more helps a great deal. Try acidopholus tablets, which can be bought over the counter, as well.
Pillows that provide the right support can really help you to sleep better. Neck roll pillows often help with the achy neck and shoulder problem, and some people find that using a wedge shaped pillow to slightly elevate the head helps. Experiment with different pillow arrangements until you find one that is comfortable and gives you support where you need it most.
Analgesia Assisted Traction Therapy (IVSAATT) frees muscle and joint adhesions. Muscles and joints are gently extended through their full natural range of motion. This procedure provides relief in about 90% of the patients treated. Many of them are actually able to stop taking the muscle relaxants commonly prescribed for this problem. The potential effectiveness of the procedure is determined by whether or not the stretching and exercise do anything to restore your range of motion and flexibility.
Adhesions are scar tissues that limit joint range, or restrict independent movement of muscle layers. Our bodies try to compensate for tissue problems by forming trigger points in those areas, which amplify the amount of pain we feel. An adhesion is really a band of scar tissue that binds together our internal organs, or around other connective tissues, by causing them to stick to one another.
Muscle cramps – also known as a Charlie horse, is a sudden, painful muscle contraction of a muscle that can be so intense that we can't use the muscle until the cramp eases. It can be caused by a lack of magnesium, or a potassium deficiency. But beware – it can also signal the onset of vascular disease, so if you find that you are cramping more than usual, please check this out. Kidney dialysis can also bring them on.
Charley horses are painful, a nuisance, you name it! Here are a few things you can do to prevent them.
Using some of these tips will help you prevent those annoying charley horses. Always speak with your health care provider about any concerns you may have.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|