How to Cope With a Fibromyalgia Flare-Up
For those of us living with fibromyalgia, we’re quite accustomed to living with a constant stream of symptoms such as pain, difficulty sleeping and fatigue.
Fibromyalgia symptoms can vary from day to day (and hour to hour). Flare-ups are when these symptoms intensify. In saying this, fibromyalgia flare-ups are generally caused by a range of external triggers. In this article we identify 5 causes of fibromyalgia flare-ups and their solutions, to help you cope better.
Fibromyalgia Flare-Ups Vary From Person to Person
There are over 200+ fibromyalgia symptoms in addition to co-existing conditions (such as IBS, depression, and sensitivities to sound and light), and when these symptoms intensify, they are called fibromyalgia flare-ups, or ‘fibro flares’.
Everyone is unique with their experience of fibromyalgia, and a flare-up is equally individual to the person. A flare-up can last from just a few days to several weeks.
Needless to say that when a person with fibromyalgia experiences a flare-up it can be extremely debilitating on the person experiencing the heightened symptoms, as well as detrimental to their work, social life and mental health.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia Flare-Ups
A fibromyalgia flare-up can be different from person to person, but for many, it means severe pain, with little to no let-up. A flare-up likely includes debilitating fatigue, even to the point of feeling weak and unable to stand or walk for much length of time.
For myself, when I hit that wall of a fibro flare, I can’t think straight, every little thing can be too much to cope with, including light, too many people talking and a feeling of anxiety and depression overcomes me.
Common fibromyalgia flare-up symptoms:
- Increased pain
- Debilitating fatigue to the point of feeling weak
- Inability to sleep or disturbed sleep
- Brain fog and poor concentration
- Heightened sensitivity to light
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Dizziness, clumsiness and balance issues
Invisible Illness Sucks!
In addition to feeling like an 18 wheeler has run over you, there is the added bonus of the fact that in having an invisible illness in most cases ‘you don’t look sick’, to friends, family and co-workers.
“You don’t look sick…”
Meanwhile, you are most likely going through a range of symptoms that are synonymous with fibromyalgia, with increased pain generally being the Number #1 symptom.
Invisible illness, whether it is fibromyalgia, CFS/ME or chronic back pain absolutely sucks, because when your disability is invisible, it become very hard for people to take the severity of your symptoms seriously in many cases.
Pain Severity Scale
As one of the key symptoms of fibromyalgia is pain, and in a fibro flare-up, pain generally plays the predominant role, I thought I would share with you this great pain severity scale…
Now, that I’ve hopefully given you a bit of a background on fibromyalgia flare-ups, let’s look at the causes of fibromyalgia flare-ups…(and how you can overcome them!).
The 5 Causes of Fibromyalgia Flare-Ups
The effect of stress on your body is massive, and it is widely known to cause numerous health conditions and responses. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that it can play a starring role in fibromyalgia and fibro flare-ups.
Stress can generally be one of the main causes of a fibro flare, and experiences such as upsets, and increased pressure from work, or as a parent, and pretty much any other stressful situation can be enough to cause someone living with fibromyalgia go into over-drive and into a flare-up.
- Our muscles tense up, particularly in our neck, back and shoulders
- Our cortisol levels go out of control, causing the ‘fight or flight’ response
- Cortisol is the root problem of adrenal fatigue and can cause sleep disturbances, digestive problems and much more
- Activation of the sympathetic nervous system affecting the nerve endings which in turn affects the heart, blood vessels, respiratory centres and other areas
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Therefore, having the tools and ability to identify stressful situations and make a choice regarding how to handle them differently, can certainly help reduce fibromyalgia flare-ups – not to mention make your life a heck of a lot easier.
One of the most stressful times of the year for many people is of course, the holiday season. If you’re interested in finding out how to reduce your stress over the holidays, check out our blog 6 Top Tips to Avoid Holiday Season Stress with Fibromyalgia, CFS/ME & Chronic Pain.
Solutions to Help Combat Stress
Breathing and practicing meditation and mindfulness techniques can help you feel calmer – many people experience improvements over time and say that using these techniques have been life-changing. (Plus there’s no side effects!).
A revolutionary new and widely accepted approach - mindfulness-based chronic pain management, helps you harness your mind’s power to quiet your pain.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people and ask for help! Many times people don’t know that you’re struggling.
2. Certain Foods
Yep. Certain foods can be a huge cause for fibromyalgia flare-ups.
The Solution to Food Causing Fibro Flare-Ups
Easier said than done for most people – removing foods that cause inflammation, as well as highly toxic processed foods can only be a good thing.
I recommend this book; Foods That Fight Fibromyalgia, to help you understand what may be triggering flare-ups, and the right foods to eat for easing pain, improving fatigue and helping you to recover! (Yep! Good foods CAN help to heal you! Fact!).
Nightshades (peppers, white potatoes, chilies, tomatoes, aubergine/eggplant, goji berries and even tobacco) are known to cause an increase in pain and flare-ups for many people.
Tracking Food & Flare-Ups
I know that in tracking trigger foods with the journal on my FibroMapp Pain Manager+ App, I was able to easily identify several foods that send my pain levels soaring. Not only are a lot of these foods instigators of fibromyalgia flare-ups, but they also can cause overall inflammation in your body.
For me using the app, I was able to identify that chicken, tinned tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers and eggplant (aubergine) will have me almost in tears – within 2 hours of eating! And I will be in a fibro flare for around 2 days. (Probably until it has cleared out of my system).
3. Sleep Difficulties
Many people who have fibromyalgia find that sleep can be difficult at the best of times. Not only can it increase your brain fog, dizziness and clumsiness, lack of sleep has been proven to increase pain – and depression.
Solutions to Improving Poor Sleep
There are numerous things that you can do to improve your sleep hygiene, such as:
- Go to bed around the same time each night
- Make your bedroom a place of calmness and comfort
- Try using a radio or a white noise machine, such as the beautiful Douni Sound Machine
- Avoid eating chocolate, sugar and caffeinated drinks after 6 pm
- Try not to nap if possible
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One of the biggest causes of sleep disturbances these days is the blue light emitted from your computer and smartphone screens.
Switching off at least 2 hours before going to bed is recommended – and it is something I massively struggle with – and I know I am not alone! In addition to keeping our brains active (when we should be switching off to go to sleep), we are actually screwing up our sleep hormones including our melatonin production – all due to blue light exposure from our screens.
That’s why I have invested in these blue light blocking glasses. What a difference! (Plus you get 2 in a pack and the reviews are oustanding…).
PREVENT HARMFUL BLUE LIGHT THAT'S AFFECTING YOUR SLEEP & HEALTH!
Beds & Bedding Matters!
Did you know that it is recommended that you change your mattress every 7 years? And that’s for ‘regular’ usage – i.e. people who are spending a normal amount of time in bed, not people who sometimes spend days and weeks in bed most of the time, as is the case for many people with fibromyalgia.
Being comfortable in bed is obviously important, and when you are living with chronic pain and sleep issues it’s even more important!
That’s why I love my Sanggol U-shaped body pillow. (Ok, it’s a maternity pillow!). It supports my back, under my legs, my arms…and when turned around so the ‘U’ is under my knees, this pillow provides pressure relief off of my hips, too.
Reduce Pain in Back, Neck, Hips & Legs with Full Body Support. Our #1 Best-Selling Pillow!
Bet this sounds familiar…
Payback time from doing too much at one time.
When you have fibromyalgia it’s common to overdo it when you’re feeling ‘good’ or trying to push through things when you’re not feeling so great. After a few hours your pain levels are soaring, fatigue is hitting and BOOM a flare-up has started. Again.
The Solution to Overdoing It
Try incorporating the 3 R’s into your daily routine:
Pacing when living with fibromyalgia is really critical! Many of us are high achievers, and saying ‘no’, and resting when we need to is critical.
If you haven’t heard of the Spoon Theory to help you pace yourself AND need to explain to people how you only have a limited amount of energy, this video is well worth watching and sharing.
You may have already come to the conclusion that weather may be having an effect on your pain levels and other symptoms of fibromyalgia, and you’re right.
Barometric weather changes, like heat, rain…well, you know WEATHER, can really cause havoc and you may notice flare-ups happening with storms approaching and a change in the seasons.
Solution to Weather Causing Flare-Ups
Well, obviously you’re not able to control the weather – or the climate! But you can kind of control it by using a climate control in your home and car to keep things more stable. Make sure you dress appropriately when you go outside.
And some people simply move to a climate that is more suitable to their health. (The lucky ones ;))
Managing Fibromyalgia Flare-Ups
One of the most important things when managing fibromyalgia flare-ups is to understand what’s triggering them in the first place.
Obviously, there are some things that are going to be out of your control – such as the weather. However, other things, such as food, managing stressful situations better, ensuring a good quality and comfortable sleep and pacing yourself to limit over-exertion are all areas that you DO have control over.
Tracking and journaling your daily life experiences is an excellent way to gain a better understanding of what’s causing your fibro flares.
That’s why people who use the FibroMapp Pain Manager+ app have found that it has helped them to identify patterns, gain insights and pinpoint causes of fibromyalgia flare-ups.
Self-Management is Key to Improving Symptoms
The success of our first app FibroMapp Pain Manager+ has shown us that self-management can be greatly improved when tracking and journaling is easily at hand. With V2.0 of FibroMapp Pain Manager+ we will be expanding upon everything good in the original FibroMapp and incorporating all the learnings we have gathered over the last 6 years to build a truly special app for fibromyalgia.
By taking tracking, reporting and insights to the next level we hope to give people a knowledge & understanding of their triggers and with it the power to prevent unnecessary flare-ups.
To be notified about the launch of FibroMapp Pain Manager+ V2.0 in 2020 please sign-up below; and also view our short explainer video to see how our app may be of service: