Fibromyalgia (FM) is a common cause for chronic pain (pain that lasts three or more months) and afflicts 4% of the general population in the United States! FM commonly affects the muscles and soft tissues – not the joints (like arthritis); however, many FM sufferers are mistakenly diagnosed with arthritis, so it may take years before they get an accurate diagnosis. There are NO known accurate diagnostic tests for FM, which is another reason for a delayed diagnosis.
In order to answer the question, “Can fibromyalgia be prevented?” we must first find the cause of FM. There are two types of FM: PRIMARY and SECONDARY. Primary FM occurs for no known reason, while secondary FM can be triggered by a physical event such as a trauma (e.g., car accident), an emotional event or a stressful situation (e.g., loss of a child), and/or a medical event such as a condition like irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, or systemic lupus erythymatosus (SLE). Any condition that carries chronic or long-lasting symptoms can trigger FM, and some argue that the lack of being able to get into the deep sleep stage may be at the core of triggering FM since sleep disorders are a common finding in FM sufferers!
The “KEY” to managing FM has consistently been and probably always will be EXERCISE and SLEEP. So, if FM is preventable, daily exercise and getting the “right kind” of sleep are very important ways that may reduce the likelihood for developing the condition! Since emotions play a KEY ROLE in the cause and/or effect of FM, applying skills that keep life’s stressors in check is also important. This list can include hobbies like reading a good book, playing and/or listening to music, or meditation. The combination of exercise with mindful meditation using approaches like Tai Chi, Yoga, Qi Gong, and others has had positive impacts on FM patients such as improved balance and stability, reduced pain, enhanced mental clarity, and generally improved quality of life. Managing physical conditions that are associated with FM (such as irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, or systemic lupus erythymatosus) is also important in managing and/or preventing FM.
Another management strategy of FM is diet. As most patients with FM will agree, certain foods help and others make the FM symptoms worse. In a survey published in the Journal of Cinlical Rheumatology, 42% of FM patients reported certain foods exacerbated their symptoms. Of course, each individual case is unique, so keeping a food log or journal can be very helpful to determine dietary “friends” vs. “enemies.” The first step is to eliminate certain foods for four to six weeks, such as dairy and/or gluten. Most patients report a significant improvement in energy (less fatigue) while some report less pain when problem foods are elimated from their diet. Generally, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can have a positive impact on the FM patient. Consider eating multiple small meals vs. two or three large meals during the day, as this can keep blood sugar levels more stable and reduce fatigue.
So back to the question, can fibromyalgia be prevented? Maybe…maybe not. Since the medical community doesn’t know the exact cause, it’s hard to answer this question. However, being proactive and implementing the strategies used to better manage FM may help in preventing it as well!