Focus: Symptoms or Causes?


Fibromyalgia is a syndrome rather than a disease meaning it cannot be defined by a single established set of causes, symptoms or treatments. It has no known specific trigger or cause and no exclusively defined set of symptoms.  Researchers and doctors believe that symptoms are probably triggered by a combination of many factors. While some people associate the onset of symptoms with repetitive injuries, others link it to an emotionally or physically traumatic event. Some connect it to a prolonged illness or infection. Many believe that diet and the lack of some nutrients from the patients system is a critical factor. Even more confusing is the fact that in some people, Fibromyalgia seems to occur without any trigger at all.

One ongoing question for patients and medical professionals is whether effective Fibromyalgia treatment should focus on specific symptoms or attempt to target possible causes. Which approach is most effective?

Is a Symptoms Focused Treatment Best?

Let us first take a look at the primary symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Pain, tenderness and stiffness of muscles, tendons and joints
  • Tingling or numbness of extremities
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sleep disorders and a lack of restorative sleep
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome -  ongoing bowel and digestive system irritation
  • Depression and/or Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Cognitive memory problems -   Brain Fog or “Fibro Fog”
  • Sensitivity to bright lights or loud noises
  • Sensitivity to Touch

Given the range of symptoms, it is not surprising that there is no one treatment approach that is proven to be the most effective. Focusing treatment efforts at individual symptoms could involve a wide range of simultaneous efforts. This could include taking pain medications as needed to help deal with breakthrough pain; sleeping aids for insomnia and restless sleep; anti-depressants for depression; fatigue medications for chronic fatigue and muscle relaxants for tenderness or stiffness of muscles and tendons. There are hundreds of medications available that may be effective to varying degrees in targeting the improvement of individual symptoms.

Given that different medications will offer varying degrees of relief to different Fibromyalgia patients and taking into account that medications may interact with each other in different ways, it is critical to take a careful and measured approach to treating symptoms. An accurate and ongoing pain diary and treatment tracking system to aid the patient and doctors in determining what combinations are the most effective is critical.

Unfortunately, measures targeted at individual symptoms will only help reduce or eliminate the immediate pain and they only have a temporary effect. None of these treatment measures gets to the root of the syndrome.

Is Treatment Focused On Causes Effective?

As with symptoms targeted treatment efforts, treatment focused on Fibromyalgia causes has also not proven to be individually effective simply because it is difficult to pinpoint the factors that have triggered the symptoms. While Fibromyalgia is associated with sleeplessness and fatigue, medical experts are not yet certain whether it is the sleeplessness and fatigue that is causing other symptoms or the other way around. Many physicians will prescribe vitamins or dietary supplements in an attempt to correct underlying nutrient deficiency causes or they may recommend physiotherapy sessions or doing certain exercises, depending upon what your triggers may be. Some patients may benefit from therapy programs such as chiropractic, massage, acupuncture or mild electrical muscle stimulation aimed at addressing underlying causes.  In most cases it becomes very difficult at times to differentiate causes from symptoms.

While many patients do realize lasting benefits from causal focused treatment efforts, these types of treatment approaches are not recognized as representing a cure and to remain effective they typically must be ongoing.

 What is the Best Treatment Approach?

Currently,  Fibromyalgia treatment tends to focus on minimizing the symptoms and improving general health. It is important to remember that there is no one proven best Fibromyalgia treatment; it varies from one person to another. What may work for one person may be totally ineffective for another. In fact, treatments that help to alleviate the symptoms in one person may worsen the symptoms in another. Moreover, the symptoms of the ailment come and go constantly so treatment is typically an ongoing process that varies depending on what symptoms are being manifested at that point in time.

Because the symptoms and causes are so diverse and involve different body tissues, the most effective fibromyalgia treatment approach is one that involves multiple health care providers possibly including (but not limited too) physiotherapists, physicians, occupational therapists and chiropractors. The key to effective treatment is for the patient to understand the difficulties of their condition, educate themselves on various treatment options and take charge over developing their own best treatment regimen in conjunction with their medical professionals.

Alternate Fibromyalgia Treatments That May Help

More and more doctors today recommend certain lifestyle changes in an attempt to help fibromyalgia patients lead a fuller, pain-free life. Dietary changes and exercise form the core components of these alternate treatments. While there is no specific fibromyalgia diet, certain things such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol just before bedtime helps promote restful sleep. Regular, low impact exercises such as walking, stretching, yoga and Tai Chi have also been known to help reduce the symptoms of this condition. Another way that exercise helps is that is helps eliminate sleeplessness by promoting REM sleep or a deeper level of sleep.

A Comprehensive Fibromyalgia Treatment Approach

If you are suffering from Fibromyalgia, the best thing you can do for yourself is to collaborate with your doctor to develop a unique treatment plan that addresses your particular circumstances. To do this, you will need to work on maintaining a diary recording details of your symptoms – what were the symptoms you experienced, duration of the symptoms and the probable causes. In addition, you also need to keep a record of the treatments you used at the time and whether you noticed any significant changes or not. Over a period of time, these records will help you pinpoint the factors that trigger the symptoms for you and will aid in developing a personalized treatment program that offers the best hope for reducing symptoms on an ongoing basis.






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