According to the American College of Rheumatology,
fibromyalgia affects three to six million Americans, or about 2 percent of the
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome, a recognizable constellation of
symptoms of unknown causation. The primary symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread
muscle pain. The majority of sufferers are women between the ages of 34 and 56.
Ten to twenty percent of those with FMS are severely debilitated.
As recently as twenty years ago, fibromyalgia was
unrecognized. Clinical examinations often revealed no concrete findings. X-rays,
blood tests, and muscle biopsies appeared normal, and therefore the symptoms
seemed unexplained. Currently, a diagnosis is made by first ruling out other
conditions that may mimic its symptoms such as hypothyroidism, lupus, Lyme
disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Then the diagnosis is based upon the
patient's history and physical findings. A history of generalized muscle pain
and malaise coupled with the finding of 11 of 18 specific tender points is
suggestive of fibromyalgia.
While the cause of fibromyalgia is elusive, there are many
events which are thought to trigger the onset including viral or bacterial
infection, trauma, or autoimmune disease. Theories pertaining to alterations in
neurotransmitter regulation, immune system function, sleep physiology, and
hormone control are all being studied.
Common treatments are geared toward improving the quality of
sleep and reducing pain. Because deep sleep is so crucial to bodily functions
such as tissue repair, antibody production, and regulation of neurotransmitters,
hormones, and immune system regulators, the sleep problems that FMS patients
suffer from is thought to be a major contributing factor.
Medicines that boost the body's level of serotonin and
norepinephrine (neurotransmitters that modulate sleep, pain, and immune system
function) are commonly prescribed. While some patients respond well to these
drugs, improvement varies from person to person. In addition, the medications
may have side effects such as drowsiness, constipation, dry mouth, rash,
headache, nervousness, tremors, dizziness, and increased appetite.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen
may also be beneficial, though they should not be taken for long periods of time
due to potential nephro-toxicity. Narcotic pain relievers, tranquilizers, and
cortisone derivatives have been shown to be ineffective and should be avoided
because of their potential side effects.
What can Chinese medicine do?
Chinese medicine views fibromyalgia as a condition
resulting from general weakness of the liver, kidney, spleen and heart, caused
by emotional stress, over strain, lack of adequate sleep and nutrition, and
disturbed body rhythm - in other words, the body is out of "sync."
A Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner
completes a full assessment of a patient in order to accurately determine what imbalances are
present. There are a number of different patterns that we see frequently with
FMS and treatment should be tailored to each patient's pattern. Acupuncture and
Chinese herbal medicine can help control pain, increase energy and improve sleep
and other symptoms. Fibromyalgia symptoms are greatly influenced by stress,
amount of activity, and environment.
What can you do?
Eat lightly for dinner, preferably vegetables, grains, and
Avoid tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, dairy
products, red meat, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and processed or refined foods.
Take a hot bath before bedtime.
Practice some form of meditation before bed to
relax the body and prepare for sleep.
Go to sleep at the same time every night, before 11 pm.