Fibromyalgia is a complex disorder most commonly characterized by chronic muscle pain and fatigue.
The exact cause of this disorder has been debated by the medical community, leading some to doubt its validity as a “real” disease.
For patients experiencing symptoms that certainly feel real, but may have no apparent physical cause, neurological involvement presents a likely role in the disease.
This article will explore neurological symptoms of fibromyalgia, while looking at the scientific evidence for the brain’s involvement in the disease and, finally, what this means for future advancements and treatments.
Beyond the Body: Neurological Symptoms Are Prevalent
In addition to the somatic symptoms of muscle pain and fatigue, many fibromyalgia patients experience symptoms that are neurological in nature.
Common symptoms include depression, brain fog, memory problems, and sleep disturbances.
One research study performed by the NIH found that fibromyalgia sufferers experience a wide range of other neurological problems, such as visual and auditory issues, poor balance, sensitivity to light, muscle weakness, numbness, dizziness, and tingling.
Compared to a control group, significantly more fibromyalgia patients experienced these symptoms. These findings are indicative of the prevalence of neurological symptoms in those with fibromyalgia.
The brain and body can be seen as functioning together as a unit. Furthermore, the brain is the control center of the body.
In other words, even symptoms that may appear to be only physical in nature may actually be a result of neurological abnormalities. Pain and fatigue are examples of this relationship.
This may explain why fibromyalgia causes unexplainable pain and fatigue that is difficult to attribute to a physical problem with the body.
According to some researchers, stress experienced by the mind is an important factor in the development of physical symptoms such as chronic pain.
This is an explanation for the phenomenon of developing chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia after an extremely stressful life circumstance.
Instead of being labeled as not “real” pain, bodily fibromyalgia pain should be credited and understood through its origin at the brain.
Finding Underlying Causes in the Brain and Nervous System
In the search for what causes or contributes to fibromyalgia, the brain and nervous system hold potential.
Returning to the theory of stress, it is believed that those with fibromyalgia suffer from unbalanced hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal gland function.
The improper functioning of these glands, particularly the adrenal gland, leads to an abnormal stress response due to overcompensation.
This stress response in turn causes the central nervous system to send pain signals to nerves.
Stress is not good in general, but for fibromyalgia patients it is particularly dangerous and leads to worsened symptoms.
Change in Functionality
Functional MRI scans have been used to recognize differences between normal brains and brains of those affected by fibromyalgia.
In those with fibromyalgia, brain scans showed a heightened response to pain and pressure. Why is this the case?
It is believed that this response is due to an over activated pain response, possibly due to damage in an area that typically serves to decrease the pain response.
It is possible that both of these mechanisms are at work, creating a situation in which the system is simultaneously over-stimulated by pain and unable to reverse this process.
These functional MRI scans prove the point that there is something going on at the biological level in those suffering from fibromyalgia – it is indeed real pain.
The Future of Fibromyalgia
With fibromyalgia being viewed as a neurological disorder, patients are getting more of the attention and respect they deserve.
Health care providers are likely to provide more assistance to fibromyalgia sufferers now that the medical community has developed new understanding of the source of their pain.
With this new understanding, more neurologists are beginning to offer their expertise to help people deal with fibromyalgia.
Rather than being seen as a disease of the muscles or joints, like arthritis, fibromyalgia is being understood in a new light – in which it is no longer a mysterious affliction without real physical presentation.
The medical field has come a long way in understanding this disease, though there is certainly still progress to be made.
A Promising Future of Treatment
As more is discovered about the neurological basis and effects of fibromyalgia, it is probable that more effective treatments will emerge to manage symptoms and hopefully even offer a cure.
Some researchers already advocate for a stress-reduction approach, including alternative medicine practices such as nutrition, exercise, relaxation techniques, and chiropractor visits.
A modern treatment called NeuroEmotional Technique, or NET, is aimed at using chiropractic techniques to release emotional stress. This may be very beneficial to fibromyalgia patients.
Another promising treatment is antidepressants, which many doctors believe help block pain signals and improve quality of sleep in fibromyalgia patients.
Epilepsy medications, such as pregabalin, also have the potential to help treat fibromyalgia, as they work to correct similar mechanisms in epilepsy patients.
Many health care providers believe that, especially for the time being, alternative medicine is the best way to treat fibromyalgia.
Often, patients are not able to benefit from the medications currently available.
However, they may find that a holistic treatment strategy can manage their symptoms and help them achieve the best quality of life possible.
Many resources such as books and websites are available for those wanting to explore these options.
In conclusion, understanding the neurological components of fibromyalgia offers a more comprehensive approach to determining causation and treatments.
The difficulty of diagnosing the mysterious aches and pains experienced by sufferers is suggestive of neurological involvement, and particular neurological symptoms are undeniably part of the disease.
Recent evidence shows that the underlying causes of fibromyalgia are also linked to the brain.
As scientific research continues, treatments for the neurological involvement of fibromyalgia will become more widely available.
There is still more to be learned about the neurological aspects of fibromyalgia, but hopefully this article was an informative source that could present the current body of knowledge.