Herbal Remedies and Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain illness characterized by musculoskeletal pain, soft tissue tenderness, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. Mostly it affects in the neck, back, shoulder, pelvic girdle, and hands. It is a common condition, which occurs in 3.4% of women and 0.5% of men. It is estimated that approximately 5-7% of the U.S. population has fibromyalgia (Ref: National Fibromyalgia Association). It is a physical condition, which can be relieved with proper treatment. It occurs in all types of climates, races and nearly all countries. It can cause significant pain and fatigue, which can really interfere with a person’s ability to carry on daily activities. It is found that people with diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, or systemic lupus may be more prone to have fibromyalgia. It produces chronic body-wide pain, which migrates and can be felt all over the body. Recent scientific research studies have revealed that the central nervous system is involved in fibromyalgia. There is no laboratory or other diagnostic test for fibromyalgia so it must be diagnosed based on patient symptoms and physical examination.
The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown; however there are various factors involved. Stress, chemical imbalance in the brain and spinal cord and abnormalities in the immune system can cause fibromyalgia. It may have genetic link. Abnormalities in endocrine systems can also trigger the symptoms. According to the researchers, fibromyalgia is a disorder of central processing with neurotransmitter dysregulation. The pain associated to the fibromyalgia may be due to abnormal sensory processing of central nervous system. Illness or injury of any types can cause trauma to the body and hence can trigger fibromyalgia. Similarly physical exertion, trauma, depression, and anxiety may aggravate symptoms. Changes in weather, cold environments, infections, allergies, and hormonal fluctuations may be the risk factors as well. Sleep disorders, allergies or sensitivity to certain chemicals, foods, or the environment, virus (especially Epstein-Barr, HHV-6, cytomegalovirus), overexertion, blood sugar imbalance, candidacies and parasites, toxic metals (lead, mercury, etc) and nutritional deficiencies are some of the other root causes of fibromyalgia.
Signs and Symptoms
Pain and fatigue are the most common symptoms appeared in fibromyalgia. The pain may as deep muscular aching, intense burning, and stabbing. The pain is more likely to feel in all four limbs, spine, and chest wall. Increased sensitivity to pain is the main symptom. Besides, there are some other signs and symptoms associated with the condition, which may be the followings.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Tingling of the extremities
Cognitive and memory problems
Sensitive to odors, loud noise and bright lights
Dry eyes and mouth
Feeling of swollen extremities
Painful menstrual periods (dysmenorrhea) and painful sexual intercourse (dyspareunia)
Although there is no cure, one can do many things to help feel better. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve sleep and relieve associated symptoms. Most common treatment strategy includes medication, lifestyle changes, exercise, physical therapy, acupuncture, behavior modification, natural therapies, etc. Several medicines can help relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many of these medicines are taken before bedtime and can improve sleep. They also help to relieve from the pain and other symptoms. Antidepressant agents, such as amitryptyline, are used to treat fibromyalgia, which help to relieve sleep disorder, reduce muscle pain and treat depression. However they have side effects like nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia, etc. Small doses of aspirin or acetaminophen may be used to relieve pain and muscle stiffness. NSAIDs, narcotics and corticosteroids are also used but they are not effective as they have severe gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects. Sometimes conventional medicine is just not enough to provide with the relief from fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia treatment often includes various types of alternative therapies.
Lifestyle changes include avoiding caffeine, practicing regular exercise, establishing regular sleep habits, eating a healthy diet, etc. Heat, ice, massages, ultrasounds, and electrical stimulation may be used to reduce pain, which are provided under physical therapy. Massage therapy is particularly beneficial for improved muscle function and pain relief. Hydrotherapy can be used to help relieve a variety of physical symptoms including pain, infection and swelling. It helps in reducing pain, improve sleep disorders, increases mobility and reduces stiffness. Various herbal and dietary supplements are now available for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Supplements such as 5-HTP, Vitamin-B, Calcium, Magnesium, Coenzyme Q10, Malic acid, N-acetyl-L-cysteine, and NADH are used in condition with fibromyalgia.
Herbal Remedies and Fibromyalgia
Herbal remedy is a non-conventional way of treatment in fibromyalgia, which has been proved to be effective and beneficial. Herbs can help to treat the wide range of symptoms produced in fibromyalgia like depression, fatigue, sleep disorders, immune deficiency, inflammation, and severe pain. St. John’s Wort, a natural antidepressant, is found to be used in fibromyalgia which helps to alleviate pain, stress and anxiety by inhibiting neurotransmitters. Garlic, Astragulus, and Echinacea are effective herbs, which are believed to improve the immune system and reduce a wide variety of symptoms. Corydalis(Chinese poppy) contains DHCB which block pain signals in the brain. Ginseng is energizing herb that can help resolve the fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. Similarly Turmeric helps to reduce pain and inflammation. Some other herbs useful in fibromyalgia include; Cayene, Calendula, Ginkgo biloba, Willow bark, Licorice root, Black walnut, Milk thistle extract, Grape seed extract, Ginger, etc. Likewise, essential oils such as Lavender, Chamomile, Basil, Juniper, Black pepper, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Myrrh, etc are used in aromatherapy to soothe muscle and joint pain and reduce stress associated with fibromyalgia.
Skelly, Mari et al. Alternative Treatments for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Insights from Practitioners and Patients. Alameda, CA: Hunter House, 1999.
National Fibromyalgia Association, an official site (http://www.fmaware.org/fminfo/brochure.htm)
James F.Balch, Mark Stengler. Prescritption for Natural Cures. Johnson Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey, pp 237-245. 2004.
PDR Health (http://www.pdrhealth.com/patient_education/BHG01RH02.shtml)
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (http://www.niams.nih.gov/hi/topics/fibromyalgia.htm)
The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, Inc. (http://www.afsafund.org/)
National Fibromyalgia Research Association (NFRA) (http://www.nfra.net/)