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3 surprising conditions linked to fibromyalgia

30th December 2014
fibromyalgia related conditions

Manifesting through widespread pain, fatigue, brain fog and sleeplessness, numbness, tingling or swelling of the arms and legs, fibromyalgia affects 2-5% Australians, being more common in women, although men can develop this condition as well. Usually occurring during middle adulthood, this ailment affects one’s overall health and well-being, interfering with their daily activities and leading to secondary problems.

For people with fibromyalgia, even the simplest day-to-day tasks can become very challenging if they require a higher level of concentration or energy, as sufferers get tired very easy, are very responsive to changes in light or temperature and often find it difficult to focus or memorize things.

Although there are a couple of symptoms that occur in most fibro patients, each case is different and the manifestations can be severe in some and mild to moderate in others. Some patients can manifest the typical signs for extended periods of time, while in others the symptoms can occur only periodically, and then disappear for some days, weeks or even months.

Moreover, some fibromyalgia patients can develop other related conditions, which will be discussed below.

Conditions commonly associated with fibromyalgia

1. Irritable bowel syndrome

According to studies, 30% to 70% fibromyalgia patients suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, which manifests through bouts of constipation or diarrhea, bloating and abdominal cramps. This disorder of the digestive tract is a chronic condition with intermittent symptoms and it involves the autonomic nervous system just like fibromyalgia.

Patients with IBS usually experience pain in the lower belly and can pass stools with mucus, most of the manifestations occurring when a certain food is consumed. Even products that are harmless for most people can cause unpleasant symptoms in IBS sufferers, and this can hamper one’s daily life.

Although in some patients IBS can be managed through diet and lifestyle changes, in others medications are also needed. However, drugs used for treating irritable bowel syndrome aren’t always useful for relieving fibromyalgia symptoms, this condition being more complex and more difficult to treat.

2. Sleep disorders

People with fibromyalgia can experience sleep problems more or less frequently, but two specific disorders – restless leg syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movement during sleep (PLMS) seem to be present in many sufferers.

RLS appears in about 15% of fibro sufferers and manifests through an urge to move the limbs, tingling and itchiness, as well as a strong and unpleasant crawling sensation. The overwhelming need to move the legs gets worse in the evening and at night, interfering with one’s sleep and making it difficult to wake up well rested.

In some people, the symptoms occur even during the day, when lying or sitting, and can disrupt regular activities. Just like IBS and fibromyalgia, RLS can manifest differently from one patient to another; in some, the syndrome is milder and symptoms occur every now and then, while in others the manifestations are present every day.

Consuming a decreased amount of coffee, reducing the consumption of other stimulants, exercising daily and reducing stress as well as maintaining a regular sleep schedule can help in managing the symptoms. In some, taking a hot bath or alternating cold with hot showers and taking dietary supplements like iron, magnesium and folate is helpful as well.

However, medications shouldn’t be used without previously consulting a physician, as some of the drugs recommended to fibromyalgia patients can make RLS symptoms worse.

3. Depression

According to statistics, between 50% and 70% of fibro sufferers are affected by depression, but only 18%-36% are dealing with major depression episodes. It’s important not to mistake common feelings of sadness or anxiety that occur as a result of the constant pain and fatigue with those that last for several weeks or months and define major depression.

Temporary sadness and depressed feelings that appear due to prolonged muscle pain, abdominal discomfort, restless sleep or other such symptoms are normal and don’t require medications or special treatments. Still, if one experiences restlessness, suicidal thoughts and depressed mood every day, concentration problems and low energy levels every day, insomnia or excessive sleeping, weight loss or weight gain and self-esteem problems, it’s likely for a major depression episode to be present.

The stress, chronic pain, fatigue and social problems caused by fibromyalgia can severely affect one’s relationships and lifestyle, leading to sedentariness, isolation and depression. Moreover, the two conditions can feed each other, as a stressful life leads to fatigue and puts one into “overload”, accentuating the fibromyalgia symptoms and moodiness; on the other hand, having fibromyalgia leads to stress and triggers the already mentioned manifestations.

Not treating one of these two conditions can lead to a vicious cycle that is hard to escape. Antidepressants are often used for treating depression and FMS, but not all of them are effective for both conditions, so it’s necessary to consult a physician before taking any drug for depression or fibromyalgia.

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