If you’re suffering from a chronic illness like fibromyalgia – you’ve likely got a lot of questions about your condition. What is causing it? Is there anything I can do or take to make it go away? If you’re anything like me – this list of questions goes on and on.
While the answers to some of our questions aren’t always what we’d like them to be or can be somewhat elusive – asking them is important. They can help us be better informed about our condition so that we can make more educated decisions on how to cope with it.
Asking the right questions is equally important. For many – especially those new to the condition – it can be difficult to know what questions to ask. If you find yourself in this category – or even if you’ve suffered for years – we’ve compiled this go-to list of 10 essential questions to ask your doctor if you have fibromyalgia:
1. What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Most people have never even heard of fibromyalgia – and many of those that have sometimes mistakenly believe that widespread, persistent pain is the only symptom. While pain is perhaps the most troubling symptom of fibromyalgia – it is far from the only one. Symptoms of fibromyalgia can also include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Difficulty with concentration or memory (a.k.a. Fibro Fog)
- Numbness or tingling (typically in hands or feet)
- Urinary problems
- Menstrual cramps
- Morning stiffness
Learn about 10 Surefire Signs That You Have Fibromyalgia
2. What are the causes of fibromyalgia?
The exact causes of fibromyalgia are still unknown – but researchers have discovered some potential links. According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, three possible contributors to fibromyalgia are genetics, infections and physical or emotional trauma. Researchers have also discovered links to nutritional deficiencies as well as the way fibromyalgia patients brain and spinal cord signals process pain – making them more sensitive to pain sensations.
While your doctor may not be able to determine the exact cause of your fibromyalgia, he or she may be able to determine some of the contributing factors. Determining these factors can get you on the right path to addressing and potentially reducing some of your symptoms.
3. How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?
Unlike some conditions, there are no tests that can be done with lab samples to determine if you have fibromyalgia. Rather, your doctor will have to understand your symptoms and make a determination as to whether or not they fit the bill for fibromyalgia. For this reason, many people suffer for years without a diagnosis. In fact, according the National Association of Disability Examiners, the average time between first treatment and diagnosis of fibromyalgia is around seven years.
To help doctors with diagnosis, the American School of Rheumatology has released a specific set of criteria that can be used to diagnose fibromyalgia. They have essentially three main criteria that must be met in order to make a diagnosis of fibromyalgia:
1 – Widespread pain and symptom severity must meet certain thresholds on the WPI and SS scales
2 – Symptoms have been present at a similar level for at least 3 months
3 – The patient does not have a disorder that would otherwise explain the pain
4. What medications are available for fibromyalgia pain? What are the side effects?
The medications used to treat fibromyalgia vary – but three of the most commonly used are analgesics (painkillers), anti-inflammatory medications and anti-seizure medications. While none can eliminate the pain completely, for some they can help take off the edge and make the pain more manageable.
Be sure to also ask your doctor about potential side effects of the medications he or she prescribes. It is important to know the side effects and risks associated with the medications you are taking. For example, some patients can develop an unhealthy reliance on certain analgesics – so this should be weighed against the potential benefits. Knowing the risks beforehand will prepare you to deal with them more effectively should they arise.
5. What alternative therapies or treatments are useful for fibromyalgia?
It is important to ask your doctor what you can do beyond just taking medications for your symptoms. While medications can be helpful in taking off the edge and restoring a small level of normalcy to your life, they don’t always address the underlying causes. In other words, rather than fix the problem they simply mask it.
There are a number of alternative therapies and treatments that can help address the underlying causes of some of your symptoms and pave the way for more lasting relief. This may include chiropractic visits, massage therapy, biofeedback, acupuncture, exercises like yoga or tai chi, nutritional supplements, mindfulness therapy and more.
Ask your doctor what alternative treatments or therapies might be the best for your situation and try to have an open mind. While they may not be your traditional treatments, many have found significant relief through these and other alternative treatments.
6. Are there any nutritional or herbal supplements that can help with my symptoms?
Nutritional and herbal supplements are another common alternative treatment for the symptoms of fibromyalgia. They can help eliminate any underlying nutritional deficiencies that may be contributing to your pain. Additionally, they often contain herbs and nutrients that are natural pain relievers – providing much needed relief and healing without many of the adverse side effects of prescription medications.
Check out these 8 Natural Supplements for Fighting Fibromyalgia
Some of our favorite herbal supplements for the symptoms of fibromyalgia are:
Rhodiola Rosea: A class of herb known as an adaptogen that helps the body adapt to and better cope with stress. It helps improve mood and boost energy. It is commonly used to help with fatigue, depression, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating and poor memory.
Turmeric/Curcumin: Turmeric comes from the ginger root, which is known to have healing properties. Curcumin, a substance found in turmeric, is a powerful antioxidant with pain relieving properties. Curcumin helps block the COX-2 enzyme – an enzyme that triggers pain and inflammation.
Want to learn more about herbs that can help with pain? Check out these Five Herbs Everyone With Chronic Pain Should Know About
7. What, if any, nutritional deficiencies can contribute to fibromyalgia symptoms?
While nutritional deficiencies don’t necessarily cause fibromyalgia (after all, we don’t know the exact cause) – they can contribute to some of the symptoms. There are a few common nutritional deficiencies in the U.S. whose symptoms very closely match some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. The most common is magnesium deficiency, whose symptoms include pain, fatigue, brain fog and more. By some estimates as many as 80% of Americans have some degree of magnesium deficiency.
Through tests your doctor can help you determine if a nutritional deficiency might be contributing to your symptoms. Be sure to ask your doctor if he or she thinks a test is warranted.
Learn more about these 3 Deficiencies That May Be Linked To Fibromyalgia
8. What lifestyle changes should I make?
While there may not be any changes you can make that will magically make your fibromyalgia disappear – there are certain changes you may be able to make that can help boost your quality of life and ease the intensity of your symptoms. Ask your doctor what changes he or she recommends based on your current lifestyle.
Though no two people are the same, some common changes that can help those with fibromyalgia include changes in diet to avoid certain trigger foods or include foods with nutrients beneficial to fibromyalgia, incorporating low-impact exercises into your daily routine (i.e. yoga, pilates, tai chi), managing stress levels through mindfulness or deep-breathing techniques and more. Cutting out things like caffeine, smoking, alcohol and other harmful substances will also be beneficial.
9. I find it difficult to exercise because of the pain but have heard that it can help. What are some less strenuous forms of exercise that I can try?
Exercise can create quite the quandary for those of us with fibromyalgia. On the one hand, we’re told that it can help us. The Mayo Clinic suggests regular exercise can help reduce your symptoms. On the other hand, it can be difficult – if not impossible – for us to do it.
If you find normal exercises to difficult but believe you can handle low-impact exercises, there are a variety of less strenuous exercises that can help. Our favorite exercises for fibromyalgia are exercises such as yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi. These exercises are incredibly low-impact exercises that focus on stretching, core strength and breathing.
As with any form of exercise, you may find it difficult at first and your symptoms may even worsen at the onset. With time, your body will strengthen and you will find that your symptoms are decreasing. For many, these low impact exercises pave the way to doing more strenuous – but beneficial – exercises such as walking, swimming or cycling.
10. Are there any foods or ingredients that can trigger a flare-up?
Make sure to ask your doctor what foods or ingredients to avoid. Certain foods and ingredients have been shown to increase the intensity of pain in fibromyalgia sufferers. A few common things to avoid are caffeine, food additives (like MSG), artificial sweeteners (i.e. aspartame), simple carbs (such as table sugar, corn syrup, fruit juices, sodas, candy, and baked foods made with white flower), dairy products and nightshade vegetables. You may also want to keep a food journal it can help reveal any other foods that may be triggering flare-ups for you.