Predicting the Unpredictable: A Guide for Understanding Fibromyalgia Triggers

Written by Bob O'Grady on . Posted in Blog

After you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it will take you some time to really understand how the condition affects you on a daily basis. Some days, you might be almost pain free. But on other days, it may be tough to even wear clothing because you are in so much pain.

Flare-ups are unfortunately common with fibromyalgia, but they can sometimes be managed with a combination of medication and the avoidance of triggers. What triggers a flare-up depends on the person and the severity of the disease, but understanding common triggers and why they affect your body in such a negative way can help you take steps to manage your fibromyalgia.

Why Does Fibromyalgia Flare?

Unlike many other pain disorders, fibromyalgia does not have a particular known cause. However, doctors agree that the pain is not caused by injury in the body itself. Instead, the pain is caused by a change to the nerve receptors in the brain that amplifies or creates the perception of pain.

Therefore, flares are more likely to occur when you do something that increases the stress on your nervous system. You will start to notice a pronounced and localized increase in your pain level, especially in “trouble spots”—flares usually target the same areas of the body when they occur.

What Are Common Triggers?

As you begin managing your pain under the observation of your doctor, you’ll need to start keeping a journal to really peg down the triggers that increase the intensity, duration, or frequency of your flare-ups. Many people who suffer with fibromyalgia hold some triggers in common. This list can be a jumping-off point for you to peg down specific triggers in your own life.

MSG

Monosodium glutamate is a very common food additive. It is used to enhance flavors and textures in powders like soup bouillon cubes, taco seasonings, or premixed spices. MSG is also common in salty snack foods like chips or jerky. One study showed that women who removed MSG from the diet experienced drastic reductions in fibromyalgia symptoms.

Stress

You might have guessed this one. Stress affects your nervous system because it triggers a constant “fight or flight” response. Your stress hormones, like cortisol, stimulate your nerves and muscles. Not only will you feel stressed emotionally, but your brain will also be under constant physical pressure from the relentless wave of stress hormones.

Over time, persistent exposure to physiological stress response can lead to nerve inflammation, increasing the pain and duration of a flare-up.

Poor Posture

Many people with fibromyalgia experience specific, localized pain. It might be in the lower back, the hip, or down one leg. The pain makes you want to compensate with other muscles. The result is poor or uneven posture when sitting and standing. The increased stress on other areas of the body creates a vicious cycle as the pain worsens in other areas as a consequence.

Weather Changes

This might seem like a trigger outside your control, but changes in pressure and temperature can trigger a flare. To help combat the inevitable, try to remain hydrated, dress warmly in cold weather, and keep your thermostat even throughout the year. If possible, you might try relocating to a mild climate that has fewer severe weather changes.

Sugar

Sugar is never considered to be a health food. It’s inflammatory to the body, and eating sugar in large amounts can damage your nerves. Diabetics are especially prone to nerve damage because of high blood sugar. Since sugar is unfriendly to your nervous system, some people experience greater pain after indulging in a lot of sweets.

Exhaustion

One of the symptoms of fibromyalgia is poor sleep quality. You might have a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep, even when your pain is mild. The situation seems like a catch-22, but lack of sleep can actually make your condition worse. You lose sleep because of fibromyalgia, and the exhaustion furthers the condition by:

  • Fueling a drive to take caffeine supplements. Caffeine is a nerve stimulant, which can increase flare pain and frequency.
  • Increasing your appetite for simple carbs and sweets. Your body’s drive for simple energy increases when you are tired.
  • Increasing overall body stress. It’s tough for a brain to function without proper rest. You need sleep to clear out the “waste” of the day and grow healthy neural pathways. A lack of rest leads to increased strain on the nervous system.

As you begin your journey to manage your symptoms, mark down the hours you sleep, what you eat, and how the weather has been. Spend a day taking stock of how your stand and sit at work. Use your tracking to see patterns in how the condition responds.

For more help on managing your pain, contact us at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates. Nerve pain is a challenging health problem, but with the latest pain management techniques and diagnoses, we can help you stay active and involved with your daily activities.