What is Fibromyalgia?

An Introduction

Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a somewhat new entity when looking at the history of health and disease. The disease itself only surfaced in literature in the late 20th century and in 2016 the National FMS Association estimated that about 3% to 6% of the world’s population have it which is around 200-400 million people and most of them are women (National Fibromyalgia Association 2016). Symptoms include pain and tenderness throughout the body which usually occurs in the neck, shoulders, chest, arms, lower back and legs. Many people also suffer stress, depression, fatigue and memory issues. This cluster of symptoms leads the condition to be largely misunderstood by the individual and sometimes clinicians. In a survey, it was found that a diagnosis could take up to two years with sufferers seeing an average of 3 to 4 different Doctors during this time. Those that have Fibromyalgia struggle to understand their condition and often cope with issues of stigma and legitimacy by society and even their loved ones (Clauw and Sluka 2016). There’s no question that we need to know more about this disease – but I’ve noticed upon doing recent research, that we still don’t know why it occurs and there is no conclusive way to be medicated for it.

Fibromyalgia is now labelled a central sensitivity syndrome and understood to be an alteration of the way we naturally react to pain within the central nervous system (Yunus 2007). Central sensitivity is heightened sensitivity to stimuli which is not normally painful and an increased response to painful stimuli. Suffers can also feel pain from the heat or the cold (Arnold et al. 2011). The nature of the of pain points towards the mechanisms that facilitate spontaneous bodily pain as many suffers can feel pain without pressure being applied. Pain transmission is a natural and protective mechanism within the body, however in conditions like Fibromyalgia pain stops being a protective mechanism and becomes chronic.

Along with many other symptoms associated with FMS such as mood disorders, sleep dysfunction and fatigue, IBS is recognised as a co-morbidity as patients often display symptoms within their gut. It is this finding that lead me to do further research around nutritional interventions for FMS symptoms. There is mounting evidence for the role of food sensitivities within the condition and more people are seeking nutritional advice (Arranz et al. 2010). Out of 101 patients with FMS 7% had a diagnosed food intolerance – this figure may seem low; but this is higher in comparison to the general public as a whole which is estimated at 2-5% (Arranz et al. 2012).

The gut and microbiome has always been of great interest throughout my studies and I hold the opinion that it plays a vital role in health and disease. As alterations in our gut bacteria can play a role in visceral pain – dietary and lifestyle patterns could be an avenue to help with pain perception and sensitivity. It is important to note that any nutritional programme for Fibromyalgia should be done with full knowledge from the clients GP and in accordance with prescribed medications.

Amy Young, BSc (Hons)