it started out with the flu – or so she thought.
a 5-year-old, several part-time jobs, karate lessons and a lot of community and church volunteer work, Brianna (not her real
name) had to slow down the pace a while when she got a nasty illness – low-grade fever, severe fatigue and painful joint
pain, headaches and discomfort in her back and shoulders.
was, “the symptoms just wouldn’t go away,” she said. They kept on … and on … and on.
did her best to “work through it,” but the pain “zapped me of energy. First I thought it was stress, then
I thought it was allergies. Then I thought it must be the karate.” Trying to solve the problem herself, she quit smoking,
dropped karate, and began allergy treatments. But nothing cured the continuous pain.
her husband had pointed out, “You’re not in pain because you’re depressed, but you’re getting depressed
because you have the pain. You have to do something about this.”
underwent a litany of tests – for tuberculoses, Lyme disease, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, heavy metal
poisonings, and much more. All the tests were negative. “But then they said, ‘There is this one other thing we
can test for.’ They touched me in different places, which was extremely painful – like they were inflamed. I asked,
‘How did you know (where to touch me)?’ And they explained the pressure points that help diagnose Fibromyalgia.”
Only a few
years ago, Fibromyalgia was considered a psychosomatic illness. Today, doctors know that the condition, believed to be an
autoimmune disease, is real – but as Brianna’s doctors explained, the diagnoses itself is a two-edged sword. The
condition has a name, but no cure, and few helpful treatments.
have pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons, and muscles may twitch and burn. Between 80 and 90 percent of sufferers are
women, but no one knows why. To be diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a patent must test negatively for other diseases, must have
suffered from widespread pain throughout the body for three months or more, and must have severe pain which touched in at
least 11 of 18 specified tender points. The illness is chronic but can wax and wane over the months and years.
show that Fibromyalgia can be just as disabling as rheumatoid arthritis, and many sufferers cannot work full-time. In addition,
treatments such as exercise, which can help with other kinds of pain, can make the pain of Fibromyalgia even worse.
Fibromyalgia often suffer from disturbed slumber, so their body may not feel rested after a “good night’s sleep.”
Some treatments focus in on helping improve sleep. Other treatments focus on the pain, and some sufferers are prescribed narcotics.
allergy to opiates meant that narcotics are not an option for Brianna, so she cycles between using aspirin, Advil and Tylenol.
She also uses a variety of over-the-counter supplements that have shown various degrees of success in helping with the pain
of Fibromyalgia. She reads everything she can get on the topic, and has tried some experimental treatments, including a low
dose of antidepressants which simply made her feel more fatigued and unable to function.
an 8-to-5 job because the cycles of the illness didn’t allow her to follow such a set schedule, she changed careers
and now works when she’s most able, and allows herself to rest when she needs to.
the worst part of the disease is that “We think of people who complain all the time as hypochondriacs. But it doesn’t
take away any of your good character – you’re no less of a person because you have Fibromyalgia. You’re
simply less able to do things.”
area offers a wide variety of treatment options for people with Fibromyalgia – some medical, some “alternative,”
and all having various rates of success depending on the individual.
The UW Integrative
Medicine Clinic offers Mindfulness Meditation, which, according to Cathy Mike from the clinic, “results in a reduction
in their perception of pain. It changes the person’s relationship to pain … and feel it (simply) as sensations
in the body.”
also offers acupuncture, which has been shown to significantly improve Fibromyalgia symptoms in women, at least in the short
term. Other treatments there include massage therapy, bodywork, Healing Touch, health psychology, Feldenkrais and Eastern
of the Bioenergy Clinic in Madison, also offers a plethora
of treatments – acupuncture, naturopathy, nutritional assessment, iridology (study of the iris of the eye), hair analysis
and other energetic assessments. “Treatment involves picking the right combination of treatment modalities,” she
says. “The main thing is that previously disheartened Fibromyalgia patients, full of despair, do regain hope and confidence
as they rebuild their health … (But) reversing the problem takes time; there is no quick fix.”
in the process of undergoing treatment, communicating with others that have the same challenges can help a great deal. Kay
Maffitt, RN, BSN, an educator at the Community Health
Education Center at Meriter Hospital, offers a Fibromyalgia Education
and Support group. “A support group can provide an opportunity for people with similar experiences to share practical
information, tips on how to cope with unique situations, and offer emotional support,” she says. “It’s a
chance to find information, encouragement and camaraderie.”