May 12th marks National Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS Day, raising awareness and offering support for those impacted by the chronic illnesses. These very similar conditions are affecting more people year over year, with diagnoses rising most sharply amongst women.
Both fibromyalgia and ME are commonly misunderstood and can greatly impact upon quality of life. Although allopathic (conventional) medical treatments are currently limited and there is no known cure for either condition, early research and anecdotal evidence shows promising results within the realm of complementary and integrative medicine.
What are fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, and how are they linked?
Fibromyalgia and ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) or CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) are separate conditions with some key differences – but lack of understanding and similar symptoms often leads to confusion between them. Despite different diagnoses, these chronic illnesses often affect people in a number of interconnected ways, which make them difficult to distinguish from one another.
Both conditions are classed as central sensitivity syndromes, resulting in pain, fatigue and cognitive dysfunction. But whilst ME can cause muscle pain alongside brain and spinal cord inflammation, affecting the immune system and energy production systems within the body, fibromyalgia is often triggered by sleep issues, mood disorders and hormonal issues and is characterised by chronic widespread pain in the body. Both syndromes are thought to influence or be influenced by the central nervous system – with stress and emotional trauma noted as common amongst sufferers.
Diagnosing ME and fibromyalgia is difficult as there is no specific test that can confirm – meaning a diagnosis is a result of exclusion of other conditions. This often causes misdiagnoses and means that confirmation of either condition can take a long time.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia and ME?
There is a lot of crossover between the two conditions – but there are also some key differences to be aware of which may help you to understand which one you or a loved one could be experiencing.
Symptoms of both fibromyalgia and ME include:
*Fatigue (tiredness despite rest)
*Poor sleep quality
*Sensitivities to food and allergens
*Cognitive dysfunction (also known as ‘brain fog’)
*Chronic/widespread pain (in some people)
Symptoms specific to ME include:
*Dizziness *Intolerance to exercise
*Flu-like symptoms, such as sore throat or fever
Symptoms specific to fibromyalgia include:
*Chronic widespread pain (as a key symptom)
*Abnormal pain types
What treatments are available?
In conventional Western medicine there is no known cure available yet for either condition – but some drugs can be prescribed to ease symptoms including anti-depressants, painkillers and sleeping aids. These drugs often produce additional side-effects – and since both conditions are considered chronic and lifelong, patients naturally are starting to seek out more gentle and effective alternative therapies.
Although research and studies are still in the early stages, initial results are promising and show that many holistic treatments can significantly reduce symptoms of ME and fibromyalgia and improve quality of life.
How can holistic therapies and lifestyle changes help?
Lifestyle changes can be very important when it comes to managing symptoms of chronic illness – including symptoms of fibromyalgia and ME. Although no food or lifestyle change can cure you, they can certainly help to ease common symptoms.
Many habits, lifestyle issues and foods such as processed or refined foods, alcohol, smoking, poor sleep and excessive stress can also aggravate symptoms, so avoiding them may improve wellbeing.
Therapies and treatments which have been identified to help with ME and fibromyalgia include:
*Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Extensive anecdotal evidence and preliminary studies support the benefits of many of these treatments, but it’s important to note that everyone is different – so something that works well for one person may not work well for another.
You should always seek professional advice from your physician before trying any complementary therapies or taking herbal medications.
How integrative medicine can help
It can be difficult and confusing to know where to start when it comes to choosing holistic therapies to support symptoms of fibromyalgia and ME. An integrative doctor can offer personalized advice and treatment plans based on your unique concerns and situation in conjunction with your current medical care plan.
Want to learn more about holistic medicine and integrative health? Meet EWW founder Dr Taz here.