Mattress Nerd consulted Dr. Alaina Rajagopal, MD, PhD, and Vivian Eisenstadt, MAPT, CPT, MASP, to ensure that this article met our editorial standards
Fibromyalgia is a surprisingly common chronic pain condition that affects an estimated 10 million people in the United States. Still, it is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. One reason is because very little is known about what causes the condition. Diagnosis is difficult and can take years since there are no tests or scans to identify fibromyalgia other than ruling out other conditions. The lapse in diagnosis and the stigma that often accompanies the condition can be frustrating to patients as well as their caregivers.
Fibromyalgia pain runs the gambit as well. It’s often referred to as a widespread ache or described as a sharp, burning, pins-and-needles sensation. Other symptoms that accompany muscle pain can include “brain fog,” fatigue and altered sleep, leading some researchers to suggest that deficient sleep may be linked to the onset of fibromyalgia.
Sleep problems often accompany a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Unfortunately, inadequate sleep can leave you fatigued and more sensitive to pain. Improving sleep quality can often improve fibromyalgia symptoms. Here are some tips to achieving better quality sleep.
Insomnia and fibromyalgia are unfortunate bedfellows. Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which you have difficulty falling asleep or you wake during the night and have a hard time falling back to sleep. The effects of insomnia — fatigue, headache, difficulty concentrating, low energy and mood swings — can also mimic the symptoms of fibromyalgia, further blurring the lines. But, insomnia is so prevalent among people with fibromyalgia that in 2010 the American College of Rheumatology included the sleep disorder among its revised diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia.
While the cause of sleep problems among those with fibromyalgia is not fully understood, it is believed that people with the condition may have a deficit of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a role in regulating sleep cycle.
Like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome is a medically unexplained illness characterized by disabling fatigue and widespread pain and tenderness. The difference between the two disorders is that with fibromyalgia, the pain is the more predominant symptom where as in chronic fatigue, the overriding symptom is an overwhelming lack of energy.
It is not uncommon for someone to have both fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome at the same time. In fact, some medical professionals believe that the two are actually the same disorder but expressed in different ways.
While the cause of fibromyalgia remains uncertain, the condition is often triggered by a stressful event, especially physical or emotional stress. Some possible triggers include injuries, viral infections, undergoing surgery or childbirth, or the loss of a loved one.
Pain and fatigue are the overriding signs of fibromyalgia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the condition can be accompanied by other symptoms as well:
It is unknown what causes fibromyalgia, however many health professionals believe there are several factors that contribute to the develop of the condition:
There are no diagnostic tests for fibromyalgia currently available. Doctors often diagnose the condition after investigating a patient’s history, conducting a physical exam and performing X-rays or blood work. The diagnosis is often made after ruling out other medical conditions.
Opioids, like hydrocodone and OxyContin, were once used by about a third of fibromyalgia sufferers. However, there is little evidence that these medications were helpful and most posed dependency and overdose risks. Current guidelines discourage use of opioids for fibromyalgia. Instead, there are several other treatments found to be safer and more effective at treating the condition:
Whether you suffer from fibromyalgia or are caring for someone with the condition, knowing the situations that cause you stress and taking steps to avoid, disarm or eliminate them is a first step in reducing stress.
Alternative treatments can offer relief from fibromyalgia symptoms. However, sure to check with your doctor first to be sure a particular therapy does not interfere with medication you are currently taking.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that has been proven effective at treating a range of conditions including anxiety and depression associated with chronic disorders like fibromyalgia.
An estimated 10 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread pain, fatigue and insomnia. The sleep problems experienced by fibromyalgia sufferers can be a double-edged sword because sleep deficiency can increase pain sensitivity and worsen symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Despite fibromyalgia being a largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed condition, there is strong evidence that people who suffer from this chronic condition can find relief and actually enjoy quality sleep. This, in turn, helps to alleviate their symptoms and improve quality of life.
Dr. Alaina Rajagopal, MD, PhD
Dr. Rajagopal is an ER physician with a PhD in public health, virology, and space science. She regularly treat patients in the ER for problems with sleep. She also hosts a podcast called “The Emergency Docs” where she provides reliable medical content for the general public.
Vivian Eisenstadt, MAPT, CPT, MASP
Prior to founding her own practice, Vivian served as a Physical Therapist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in both their Outpatient and Spine centers as well as running private clinics in Beverly Hills, CA. She specialized in treating spinal injuries, postural dysfunctions, sprains and strains and general orthopedic injuries
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