Problems All Over
As you can see, fibromyalgia can make its presence known in some specific parts of your body. But some problems seem to crop up everywhere and anywhere, affecting your entire sense of well-being. Like most fibro problems, these symptoms may come and go, and they may not always strike the same area. But they can be extremely disturbing nonetheless. In this section, we'll take a look at fibro troubles that can affect you all over.
Numbness or Tingling
Almost a third of fibromyalgia patients will experience numbness or tingling at some point. Some may complain of feeling numb or tingly all over. Others experience a loss of sensation in a limb. Often, there is no pattern to the numbness. These feelings may occur intermittently anywhere on the body, and they may change from day to day.
Fibro sufferers are vulnerable to carpal tunnel syndrome, a compression of the median nerve in the wrist that can cause swelling in the wrist and tingling in the fingers. Be wary of surgery to treat carpal tunnel, though. Research suggests that people with fibromyalgia have less success with surgery. Lifestyle change, wrist supports, physical therapy, or possibly cortisone injections should be tried first.
Numbness and tingling are often the result of an injury to a nerve that supplies blood to the affected body part. It may also be caused by something as simple as staying in the same position for too long. An imbalance of electrolytes or minerals in your body can also cause numbness, as can certain medications or medical conditions such as diabetes, migraine headaches, or hypothyroidism.
Getting rid of the numbness or tingling often means resolving another condition. For instance, if you're suffering an electrolyte imbalance, you may need to eat more of the missing electrolyte. But in some people with fibromyalgia, the numbness and tingling may exist without any apparent cause. Consider Paula, who first experienced numbness after a car accident two years ago that triggered the onset of fibromyalgia.
These days, Paula sometimes wakes up feeling numb for no apparent reason. To combat the numbness, she loosens her muscles with stretching exercises. She also applies heat packs on her muscles to relax them. Sometimes, she gets relief with a hot bath and shower. Doctors, she says, frequently ask about numbness, but they often attribute it to other ailments. But Paula thinks it's mostly the result of her fibromyalgia.
If you do experience numbness or tingling, discuss it with your doctor.
Oversensitivity — To Everything
A whiff of new carpeting sets off uncontrolled sneezing. Sleeping on sheets washed in a certain laundry detergent makes you itch. Walking past a fish market sets off a bout of severe nausea. If you've become hypersensitive to the smells, noises, and chemicals around you, you may have multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) or idiopathic environmental intolerances (IEI).
Estimates vary, but as many as 50 percent of people with fibromyalgia suffer from IEI. Often, people with IEI have problems eating certain foods as well. They're often unable to tolerate alcohol, cleaning products, cigarette smoke, pollutants, pesticides, gas, paint, noise, bright lights, and perfumes. Even at low levels, these substances can trigger physical symptoms ranging from ones that resemble an allergic reaction to nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness.
Some experts don't believe that IEI is real. In fact, several medical organizations — including the American Academy of Allergies Asthma & Immunology and the American Medical Association — have pointed to a lack of scientific evidence that the condition exists. It also doesn't help that there is no way to firmly diagnose whether a patient has IEI.
But that doesn't mean the suffering is any less real for the sensitive. The only way to deal with IEI right now is to pinpoint the offending substance and to try and avoid it. Although avoiding all chemicals in this day and age is virtually impossible, you can make choices about the cleaning products you use, the perfumes and hygiene products you wear, and the scents that fill your home. Surround yourself with natural fabrics instead of synthetic ones, which always contain chemicals. And do your best to avoid environments where you may come in contact with offending substances, such as candle stores and carpet warehouses.
Buildings have been known to make people sick. The condition is called sick building syndrome and occurs when occupants suffer health problems with no apparent illness or cause. Symptoms include headache; irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat; dry cough; dry, itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; and sensitivity to odors. Possible causes include chemicals, poor ventilation, and mold and bacteria. Relief? Treat the mold or leave the building.
Candida (Yeast) Hypersensitivity
Everyone has candida albicans living in their bodies. This exotic-sounding yeast lurks in your gastrointestinal tract, mouth, and vagina, and even parts of your skin. In healthy amounts, the yeast does no harm whatsoever. But when an imbalance occurs, and the yeast in your intestine grows unchecked, it may activate your immune system to cause a condition known as candida hypersensitivity syndrome.
Ordinary yeast infections can occur in people who take antibiotics or immune suppressant medications, which can destroy the bacteria that normally kill the fungi. Pregnant women and people with diabetes are also vulnerable to candidiasis. But in people who have fibromyalgia, a yeast infection can become a chronic problem.
Exactly what chemicals are given off by yeast to cause fibro symptoms is a mystery. We do know that yeasts can release dozens of chemicals that can be toxic to our bodies. When our bodies absorb these substances, it interferes with thyroid, metabolism, or nervous system function, which then leads to fibromyalgia symptoms.
Not everyone with fibro develops a yeast problem, but some experts believe that yeast overgrowth is a primary cause of fibromyalgia. In fact, many patients who are treated for candida hypersensitivity experience at least some improvement in their symptoms, which lends proof to this theory. Yeast overgrowth may also be involved in other chronic ailments that seem to have no explanation such as irritable bowel syndrome, interstitial cystititis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
If you suspect you have a yeast problem, ask your doctor for a candida test (which may be as simple as a questionnaire). Treatment should be a three-pronged approach that involves dietary strategies, medication, and acidophilus supplements. Start by reducing your carbohydrates, especially the simple ones, such as cookies, cakes, and other products that contain refined sugar. By eating fewer carbs, you starve the yeast and keep it from proliferating.
Next, ask your doctor for an antifungal medication. Since different strains of candida respond to different medications, it's important to have a stool test to grow out the yeast and test it against various anti-candida drugs. Finally, take a supplement that contains lactobacillus acidophilus, a friendly bacteria that helps inhibit yeast growth and restore balance to your body. After six months, you'll have significantly less yeast in your body. Your immune system will stop attacking the yeast overgrowth, so it can get back to the work of defending you against other infections that might aggravate your fibromyalgia.
Some people who have fibromyalgia experience vertigo. Simply looking at a striped pattern, driving, or reading can trigger the dizziness. These spells may result from a defect in the ability of your eye muscles to track things, or tender points in your head or neck. In some cases, the dizziness may be associated with a condition known as neurally mediated hypotension, a drop in blood pressure that results from standing up and that can produce lightheadedness.
Dizziness often stems from other problems, such as headaches, fibro fog, and fatigue. Treating some of the other problems can help relieve your dizzy spells. But talk to your physician if you are experiencing dizziness.
While it's normal for blood vessels to constrict when they're exposed to the cold — your body is trying to preserve heat — people who have Raynaud's are extra sensitive to changes in temperatures. They may even have an attack when temperatures don't change.
During a Raynaud's attack, the blood vessels undergo vasospasms that reduce circulation to the extremities, causing fingers, toes, and even the tips of your nose or ears to turn white. When they recover, the extremities turn red, hurt, and tingle. In the meantime, you may feel abnormally cold, so that while others are perfectly comfortable in T-shirts, you may be shivering with a jacket on.
The cold isn't the only thing that can set off an attack. Stress, cigarette smoking, and even typing can set off a Raynaud's attack. Severe Raynaud's can damage the tissues of your fingers and toes and may require blood-thinning medications. But averting an attack with gloves and warm clothes is often your best defense.