Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that encompasses a range of symptoms, including fatigue, chronic pain, muscle aches and weakness, sleep problems, headaches, and brain fog. There are 18 tender points that have been identified that contribute to the diagnosis of fibromyalgia – specific points on the body, many concentrated around the back of the neck and shoulders, that when pressed cause major pain and distress. Depression and anxiety can go along with fibromyalgia too. Fibromyalgia renders people sick and debilitated for years of their life: but what really causes fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome – it’s a term used to describe a constellation of symptoms, many of which overlap with other illnesses and can be vague. Sadly, many people suffering with the symptoms of fibromyalgia have been told their illness is all in their head, because their lab tests and imaging all come out fine, so on paper it doesn’t appear that there is anything wrong with them. Obviously, that’s not the case, but it can be a barrier to them getting adequate care. What is needed is a more thorough investigation of what is actually causing their symptoms. The term “fibromyalgia” might describe their symptoms, but it doesn’t explain them.
In my work with chronically ill patients, I have seen three things be the major contributors to fibromyalgia-type diagnoses (I would put chronic fatigue syndrome in a similar category and so the following could apply for those folks too) –
- The first is Lyme disease. Now I admit, as a Lyme doc, that my red flag for Lyme goes up way earlier than for most doctors. However, I can honestly say that of all the people over the years that have come to me with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, about 80% of them turned out to have Lyme disease. This was validated by blood work, and a subsequent response to antimicrobial therapy. The bacteria that causes Lyme, called Borrelia burgdorferi, along with it’s co-infections Babesia, Bartonella, Ehrlichia and Rickettsia; then the other opportunistic infections such as mycoplasma and Candida – can all cause the exact list of fibromyalgia symptoms. Many of my patients have been given the diagnosis of fibromyalgia somewhere in their health journey.
- The second is mold toxicity. Mold toxicity can definitely cause all of the symptoms of fibromyalgia – pain, fatigue, headaches/ migraines, insomnia etc. Mold toxins are neurotoxins, and are insidious within the body. If people are living with any mold in their environment, and are predisposed to not being able to clear the toxins due to genetic, nutritional or other reasons, they can get very very ill. I had a patient a few years ago who was exposed to mold in a house that was not that old, but poorly built. Despite all the therapy we did together, she didn’t really start getting well until she got out of that environment.
- The third is heavy metal toxicity. I have seen this time and time again too – high levels of heavy metals can definitely cause major pain, neurological problems, chronic fatigue and so on. Many of us are exposed to metals today through amalgam fillings, vaccines, air pollution, poor water quality, and eating seafood. I had high levels of mercury myself a few years ago, mostly from eating seafood more the prior year. I didn’t feel really sick from it, but I’ll never forget the first IV chelation I did, where I dosed myself pretty high. I lay in bed all that night feeling exactly like someone with fibromyalgia would – my body ached, my muscles felt tender, I was exhausted and had a major headache. I had to get my neighbor to come over and feed my dogs for me as I just couldn’t get out of bed and make it to the kitchen. That was a real eye-opener – if someone seemingly healthy could be rendered so sick from the stirring up of heavy metals, then those same metals could cause those symptoms in a predisposed individual.
I almost added methylation defects to that list, but I see that slightly differently. Methylation defects seem to be a component of any and all of the above three things. In my practice anyway, I don’t see people present to me with simply methylation issues, without a co-existing issue with one of the three things above. That doesn’t mean by any stretch that people with methylation defects are all destined for these problems – not at all – it’s simply that I see the people who have got sick enough from one of the trio, and their methylation issues have predisposed them to being worse off from it than some others.
There are people with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia who respond well to antidepressant medication – it seems to help their pain levels through modulating neurotransmitters that may be involved in pain regulation; there are others who respond to medications such as Lyrica that work on neuralgia and neuropathic pain. That’s all great – I’m all for symptom reduction and helping people get out of pain. But I do think it’s important to keep searching for the underlying cause, and address it at that level. Only then will full and permanent healing be possible.
Functional medicine is a term used to describe a system of medicine where we look for the underlying cause of illness through sophisticated and specialized lab testing. So if what I have talked about here strikes a cord in any of you, I would suggest looking at the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), or the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM), for practitioners who would be familiar with this approach. For Lyme-literate doctors, The Lyme Disease Association (LDA) and International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS) are the places to look for referrals.
I just don’t want see anyone suffer a minute longer than they have to, and I find it quite frustrating that fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome have become diagnoses unto themselves, where really they are syndromes that describe a subset of symptoms but don’t explain them. There are ways to do more investigative work and find the underlying cause, and finally get the right treatment to match.