Fibromyalgia: Are You Suffering With Fibromyalgia?

Editor: Arissa Brunelli

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a condition characterized by widespread pervasive and persistent pain and tenderness in the body, often accompanied by fatigue, sleep difficulties, morning stiffness, headache, anxiety, restless legs, numbness or tingling feeling in the extremities, dryness in the mouth, cold-clammy hands, irritable bowel, mental fogginess, emotional distress and cystitis.  It is a common at all ages in all societies, with a higher incidence in females than males, however, it is generally poorly understood and recognized as underdiagnosed and undertreated in general practice.  


Scientific evidence indicates that all Fibromyalgia (FM) features can be explained on the basis of autonomic (sympathetic) nervous system dysfunction (dysautonomia). On this basis, a holistic approach for FM treatment is proposed.  Simply using medication to control symptoms will not fix the problem.  For instance, taking narcotics to control the pain can exacerbate the problem as morphine causes increased hypersensitivity to nerve endings.

Stress, Fibromyalgia and the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)


The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls every aspect of our internal organs and their functions.  It is the interface between our mind and body functions.  The ANS consists of two major components, namely the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) and parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’).  


Our sympathetic nervous system activates in response to extreme physical, cognitive or emotional stress.  When it activates, it suppresses your digestive system, reproductive system, immune system and the repair functions of the body.  This is useful as it allows your body to adapt to situations and ensures you have enough energy for the crisis.  However, when this survival mechanism stays ‘switched on’ or fired up for extended periods of time, our body’s natural stress response crosses out of ‘normal circumstance’ where it is helpful, to a scenario where prolonged physiological stress can actually cause harm.  


Individuals that suffer with Fibromyalgia do not secrete the stress hormones appropriately.  When under stress, the stress hormones are not released during the stressful period.  Often, the individual just keeps working, utilizing normal energy and this results in feeling exhausted from the whole ordeal.  Eventually when there is an opportunity to rest, any additional physical or mental activity causes the threshold level to be reached and the stress hormones begin to be dumped into the body.  Often individuals will experience a rapid heart rate, a sense of urgency and shortness of breath.  Adrenaline begins to circulate in the body and the individual may feel sweaty, hot or cold.  This sudden change in bodily sensations is often met with anxiety and panic by the individual, and this can lead to experiencing further distress, triggering further adrenaline to be secreted and other stress hormones to be released.  This vicious cycle often continues until all the stress hormones are exhausted from the adrenal glands and from the central nervous system.  


The most important step in ‘breaking the vicious cycle’ for individuals with Fibromyalgia is to find ways to ‘switch off’ the sympathetic ‘overdrive’, and utilize techniques and strategies to stimulate the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system response, enabling rest and digestion.


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