You know a lot about fibromyalgia syndrome,(sometimes misspelled as fibromialgia) and its treatment if you've heard the 'The Princess and the Pea' story by Hans Christian Andersen.
The original tale gives a fairly complete summary of the widespread, chronic pain, skin sensitivity and fatigue that is characteristic of this complex disease. Clues to causes and treatment options are also found in Andersen's yarn, including the importance of stress management and how choosing a good memory foam mattress can provide pain relief.
In the story, a woman appears at a castle door during a thunderstorm. She claims to be a princess whose armed escort has died in a terrible accident. The skeptical queen tests her by giving her a bed that has a single pea at the bottom of a pile of twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds.
The princess doesn't get a wink of sleep all night and complains the next morning that she's exhausted and bruised from lying on something hard and lumpy. Everyone concludes she's royalty because only a real princess could have such delicate skin and feel a small pea under all that padding. She marries the prince and they live happily ever after.
Fibromyalgia patients and their families know that you don't have to be a fairy tale princess to have such sensitive skin. And living happily ever after with 'fibro' can seem like a fairy tale.
Those suffering from fibromialgia experience widespread, chronic pain throughout the body. The intensity varies with time and stress levels. Fibro victims have skin so sensitive that being touched is painful, and sleeping can be very difficult. That difficulty is compounded if there are any pressure points caused by your mattress (or a pea).
Some physicians will write a prescription for a memory foam mattress for their fibromyalgia patients. And it may be paid for by your health insurance, or at least written off on your federal income taxes. Check with your doctor and your tax professional.
This syndrome is difficult to diagnose because so many of its symptoms are shared by other conditions. It is sometimes confused with polymyalgia by patients. Hypersensitive skin is one of the defining symptoms as well as nine paired pain points throughout the body (see the red dots on the drawing to the left) which make up the 1990 American College of Rheumatology's criteria for diagnosis of this disease. However, patients often feel pain in other areas as well . But there are many patients who do not have the classic symptoms and that's just one of the things that makes this disorder so frustrating for patients and doctors alike.
There are other clues to the nature of this disease in the fairy tale. Like the princess, most (80% plus) are women. And the disease appears to run in families. True princesses in fairy tales always have royal parents and fibro patients frequently have close relatives with the same disease. The condition is also quite rare. It's estimated that only 2% of the population has it.
The princess' inability to get a good night's sleep is similar to the chronic sleep disturbances that are one of the hallmarks of this syndrome. Healthy people experience long periods of deep, refreshing slow-wave delta sleep and alpha waves when fully awake. Fibro patients' delta sleep is frequently interrupted by alpha wave bursts. This leaves them tired even when they've had a full night's sleep.
Cognitive dysfunction from lack of sleep is so common among patients that it has a couple of nicknames 'brain fog' and 'fibrofog' being the most common. Patients have poor short term memory consolidation, have difficulty recalling memories, do not multi-task well, frequently feel overloaded and are prone to depressive episodes.
In the story the princess endured some traumatic events. She'd been in an accident where the only people she knew in the area were killed. She had to make her way in a driving rainstorm to the castle. And when she got there she found herself in conflict with the queen mum who thought she was a cheap floozy who was making a play for the prince.
The list of the most common events that cause fibromyalgia episodes closely mirror what happened to the princess in the fairy tale. Surveys show that the most common triggers are:
Other factors include infections, allergies, lack of emotional support, perfectionism, side effects of medications and chemical exposures.
The story does not elaborate on how the princess was able to live happily ever after. Possibly the castle wizard whipped up a magic potion and put the princess on a physical regimen similar to what is recommended for patients today. But it's most likely that it took the wizard and the princess lots of trial and error before they found something that worked. Check out this fibromyalgia treatment resource for hints on dealing with fibro aches and pains.
Fibromyalgia treatment also involves a lot of trial and error. Patients usually have to try many different drugs and therapies before they find something that gives them consistent relief. Only a doctor can tell what will work best for your particular symptoms.
So if you are or know a fibro princess or prince, don't lose hope. You can have a happily ever after just like Princess Pea. You'll just have to work at it, be ready to experiment and check out more memory foam mattress links so that you can have the best sleep possible.
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