Doctors often misdiagnose fibromyalgia as arthritis or rheumatism. Receiving a firm diagnosis of fibromyalgia is often a relief to people who suffer from its associated pain, fatigue, sleeplessness and dizzy spells,some of which can now be controlled through medication and exercises.
Fibromyalgia – An Overview
The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are:
- Chronic pain in muscles and joints
- Short-term memory loss. (fibrofog
- Pins and needles in hands and feet
- Balance problems and dizzy spells
- Hypersensitive to hot and cold temperatures and weather
- Myofascial pain syndrome (a pain disorder that affects the muscles)
- Chronic headaches
- Loss of energy or lethargy
Fibromyalgia can only be diagnosed by a doctor, preferably an experienced rheumatologist, who examines the patient to look for a number of “trigger points” about the body. There are 18 trigger points, and to be diagnosed as having fibromyalgia, at least 12 of these points must be observed during the examination.
Treatment usually consists of gentle exercises, such as swimming, cycling, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy. Medication in the form of analgesics, antidepressants and muscle relaxants are also used.
Fibromyalgia and Balance Problems
A problem with balance is one of the worst symptoms of fibromyalgia. It starts with dizziness and light-headedness, and can occur at any time or location, including when rising from a chair or bed.
To maintain balance, the brain is constantly bombarded with messages from different parts of the body such as the inner ear, eyes and muscle receptors, and is known as the “equilibrium system”. Fibromyalgia sufferers have difficulty in coordination of these messages to the equilibrium system for various reasons, causing dizziness.
There are several types of dizziness, including:
Disequilibrium: This type of dizziness gives the feeling of unsteadiness that promotes a feeling of imbalance. This can lead to staggering, tripping and falls.
Vertigo: Vertigo creates the feeling of spinning, tilting or floating above the ground.
Light headedness: This gives the sensation of the head being lighter than the rest of the body, and leads to unsteadiness and imbalance.
Near fainting: This type of dizziness gives the feeling of fainting or passing out. It often occurs when getting out of bed, as the blood rushes to the legs and starves the brain of blood.
Treatment of Balance Problems
- Seek the advice of a physiotherapist on the use and type of walking stick to use. Walking aids can help maintain balance and increase confidence when walking.
- A good pair of leather shoes, preferably with a low heel and non-slip soles, can also assist with balance problems when walking.
- Vibration treatment is a relatively new therapy consisting of sitting or standing on a vibrating platform. Tests have been carried out with a number of patients with positive results using “tilt platform vibrating”
- Exercises consist of swimming, hydrotherapy and gentle cycling on a stationary bicycle. More recent research has advised exercises such as walking on thick sponge rubber mats in the gym, also the use of a 'wobble board'. This is a circular wooded board that has a semi-circular piece of wood attached to the bottom. The patient stands on the board and tries to avoid 'wobblying' by maintaining their balance; both of these exercises being carried out between walking bars and under the supervision of a physiotherapist. An example of these exercises are shown at the end of this section.
Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Examination
- Many balance problems can be triggered by inner ear problems. This source can be eliminated by a visit to an ENT specialist who will perform a few simple tests to see if this is the source of balance problem. If the test does confirm an inner ear problem, medications are available.
- A healthy diet can help with balance problems. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables (five portions a day recommended) and only low-sodium or sodium-free foods. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcoholic drinks, and high-sodium processed and fast foods. Excessive sodium can lead to an increase in blood pressure associated with balance problems.
Medication for Balance Problems
Medications are available to complement functions of the brain that control balance, including:
- Serc – A vestibular suppressant for Meniers disease, but equally effective for dizziness.
- Stemetil – An anti-emetic that belongs to the phenothiazine group lll and is used to treat vertigo.
- Stugeron – An antihistamine that contains cinnarizine. It is used to control motion sickness and inner ear disorders that can lead to balance problems in fibromyalgia.