Fibromyalgia Remission: How Can You Get There?

Tips For Putting Fibromyalgia in Remission

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What can you do to go into remission with your fibromyalgia?. andresr/Getty Images

How can you get your fibromyalgia to go into remission? Is it even possible? What has helped other people, or conversely, what might delay the process?

Fibromyalgia Remission: Definition

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition marked by pain all over the body, combined with symptoms such as fatigue, menstrual abnormalities, cognitive problems, and much more. In essence, the symptoms of fibromyalgia are diverse and limiting and can affect almost every aspect of your life.

Many people are relieved to have a diagnosis after months or years of suffering, but the next question is usually: "How long with it last?" Given its impact, most people want to know what they can possibly do to feel relief faster.

Fibromyalgia is a waxing and waning condition meaning that it can be a roller coaster as far as how well you feel. There can be both short-term improvements and long-term improvements, with a significant long-term improvement usually defined as remission. That said, even after people achieve remission, there may be some symptoms that remain.

Is Fibromyalgia Remission Possible?

When you are first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, remission may feel impossible. By the time people get an accurate diagnosis, they have often been living with progressive symptoms for months or even years.

There have only been a few studies which have specifically looked at the incidence of fibromyalgia remission.

Overall, some of these studies found that 20 percent to 47 percent of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia no longer met the criteria one to two years after the diagnosis. In one study, 44 percent of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia no longer experienced symptoms 11 years after the diagnosis. It appears that people who are more likely to achieve remission often have fewer or more minor symptoms than those who do not.

In addition, a reduction in pain over time appears to be a good indicator that remission is possible.

There is little information about how long it takes fibromyalgia to go into remission. That said since everyone with fibromyalgia is different the amount of time until you can expect meaningful relief is uncertain.

Tips That Have Helped Others Achieve Remission With Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is truly an obstacle course with a long twisty road full of obstacles and setbacks. Yet there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of fibromyalgia flares and improve your overall well-being while living with the condition.

Let's take a look at some of the ways in which fibromyalgia is managed, what studies are telling us when relevant, and other things you should know when trying to achieve remission. The bottom line, however, when reviewing these practices is that it is usually a combination of many modalities and lifestyle changes rather than any one treatment which makes a difference.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes should be stressed first, as these usually do not have side effects and can improve your overall health as well.

We know that becoming overly tired can be a trigger for fibromyalgia flares.

Learning to pace yourself and set priorities is extremely important. You may not be able to do everything you did prior to having fibromyalgia. Some people find it helpful to write out a list of activities and prioritize the list so that the most important (or most rewarding) activities get done first. Writing out a list of your short-term and long-term goals may also be helpful.

Eating a healthy diet important, but eating healthy can be challenging with fibromyalgia. In addition to choosing healthy foods, it's helpful to brainstorm food choices which are also easy to prepare. There are some foods that may be considered good foods or bad foods for fibromyalgia, and these choices may have some relation to your mood and the degree of pain you experience.

Since this varies between different people, you may need to experiment a bit yourself or keep a journal in which you write down the foods you eat and your daily symptoms to see a pattern. A 2014 study suggests that non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be an underlying cause of fibromyalgia and that adopting a gluten-free diet may help some people achieve remission.

We always talk about the importance of exercise, but there are some caveats for people with fibromyalgia. Learn more about exercise for people with fibromyalgia.

Mind/Body Practices (including Acupuncture)

Mind/body practices may be helpful for controlling the symptoms of fibromyalgia, and may also help reduce the triggers that can lead to flares. From stress management to meditation, to yoga and more, talk with your doctor about what has helped others or raise the question in your fibromyalgia support group or online support community.

Some studies have found acupuncture for fibromyalgia helpful in reducing pain, especially for those with myofascial pain syndrome.

Fibromyalgia and Working

Many people will need to make a decision about work. Some people may be able to continue performing their job as they did prior to their diagnosis, but for others, this does not work. Fibromyalgia is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so your employer is usually required to make reasonable accommodations.

If your symptoms are severe, you may also qualify for Social Security Disability or Social Security Insurance. Your employer may have a long-term disability program and there are sometimes other disability programs for which you may qualify. If this sounds like you, learn more about fibromyalgia and qualifying for SSD.

Healthy Sleep

Your sleep patterns may keep you from remission in more than one way. Some people with fibromyalgia suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is considered a possible cause, as well as a contributing factor to fibromyalgia and many people, are unaware they have this condition. If you have been told that you snore, or awaken with a gasp, talk to your doctor. A sleep study is used to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea, and if present, treatment such as CPAP can be extremely helpful with symptoms and also reduces your risk of complications.

Insomnia is common with fibromyalgia as well. If you are suffering from insomnia, it's important to realize its importance, and that it is not simply a nuisance. A number of treatment approaches may help, with cognitive behavior therapy, stress reduction, and even medications sometimes needed.

Supplements

Many people living with the condition (as well as some researchers) feel that supplements for fibromyalgia can help improve symptoms and bring you closer to remission. The research, however, is in its infancy, and it's important to find a doctor or other practitioner who can work closely with you. Doctors can vary in their understanding of fibromyalgia, so do a little research to find a physician who has a special interest in treating this condition; someone who is familiar with the current research and can help educate you about what we know while we wait for more definitive answers.

Supplements are often chosen to look at specific symptoms subgroups. For example, you may wish to try supplements that help with energy, immune function, pain control, sleep, mood disorders, or brain function depending on the symptoms you are coping with. A few of the supplements more commonly used include rhodiola rosea, theanine, Omega 3, carnitine, vitamin D, vitamin B complex, lysine, magnesium, milk thistle, and tumeric.

In addition to finding a practitioner skilled in the use of supplements, buying good quality products is essential, as these remedies are not well regulated in the United States. It's also important to be aware that supplements may interact with prescription medications, and both your doctor and your pharmacist should be aware of any nutritional supplements you are taking.

Medications

The list of prescription medications for fibromyalgia is growing and includes both medications specifically approved for fibromyalgia and those which are used primarily to treat symptoms. We still don't know exactly how these medications work, but most appear to affect the levels of particular neurotransmitters in the brain.

While medications may be helpful, they work best when combined with other modalities of treatment.

Hormonal Control

Painful periods are common with fibromyalgia and can add a monthly worsening to the already present pain. Some people find that their fibromyalgia flares follow their hormonal cycle, beginning at ovulation and tapering off during periods. Painful and erratic periods are also common. Treatments ranging from hormonal therapy to endometrial ablation may be used to control symptoms.

Gratitude

A final practice which many people with chronic diseases find helpful is expressing gratitude. Some people keep a gratitude journal or try to write down two or three positive things which happened each day. Some days your list may only include brushing your teeth, or the fact that no bills came in the mail. While we have no specific studies looking at gratitude and fibromyalgia symptoms, we do know that gratitude can reduce stress, and stress is a common trigger for flares.

Bottom Line on Fibromyalgia Remission

There is not one single treatment which works for everyone, and achieving remission from fibromyalgia usually requires a variety of methods and lifestyle measures. Fortunately, there is a lot of ongoing research that may guide us in more promising directions in the near future.

Sources:

Adams, E., McElroy, H., Udall, M. et al. Progression of Fibromyalgia: Results From a 2-Year Observational Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Study in the US. Journal of Pain Research. 2016. 9:325-336.

Schaefer, C., Adams, E., Udall, M. et al. Fibromyalgia Outcomes Over Time: Results From a Prospective Observational Study in the United States. The Open Rheumatology Journal. 2016. 10:109-121.

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