Understanding Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Fibromyalgia

New findings are helping doctors and patients to understand the relationship and connection between post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia. PTSD can come on at any time in life as a response to a wide variety of situations.

Fibromyalgia can come on in anyone over the age of 18. They share many of the same symptoms, which can make cleanly diagnosing one or the other difficult. With the new awareness that many people with one will have the other, there is an increased ability to make sure that there is a proper diagnosis made that will lead to effective treatment. While the symptoms are similar, there are some core differences that have to be addressed.

 Posttraumatic Stress and Fibromyalgia

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder has only been recently recognized as a mental illness. It is not like depression or schizophrenia as it is wholly accepted that the reasons for developing the illness are external. Exposure to trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

That trauma may come on the battlefield, in an abusive relationship, a bad employment position and so on – in other words, as it is now recognized that a huge component of post-traumatic stress disorder originates in the body’s stress reaction in response to a stimulus the trauma that can cause it is seen as anything.

Every person has a different capacity for stress and will respond to varying trauma differently too. In PTSD, the person exists in a constant state of hyper-vigilance that results in an imbalance in stress hormones and cortisol levels in the body. They may be subject to flashbacks, nightmare or general anxiety as a result of the initiating event.

Who is at risk?

Any one from a young child to a senior adult can develop PTSD. It is not uncommon for people to develop and recover from PTSD, but this then puts them at a higher risk of developing the disorder in response to a new event.

Anyone suffering a trauma – such as a traumatic event, surgery, illness or high levels of stress is also at risk. As are persons who live with chronic pain or who have an impaired immune system.

Those in high stress and high emotion environments are also considered to be at risk. The new diagnostic criteria now recognizes that there are several levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and offers appropriate treatments for each level of severity.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that is characterized by a cluster of symptoms. The most common are chronic pain, stiffness, brain fog, depression and disturbed sleep. There is no specific known cause or cure for fibromyalgia, but there are very many treatments that have shown to be effective in controlling symptoms.

Fibromyalgia often sets the stage for other disorders to occur because of how the immune system is affected. Irritable bowel syndrome and migraine syndromes are common as well. There are now tests that can help determine if you are suffering from fibromyalgia.

Who is at risk?

Originally considered a woman’s disease, there is more awareness now that men develop fibromyalgia as well. It can come on any time after the 18th year, but children have been diagnosed with it as well. The suspected causes of fibromyalgia are many.

There may be a gene component, which means if someone in your family has the disease you are at a higher risk. Traumatic brain injury has been related to it, as has major illness, disease and surgery. Emotional and mental trauma is also thought to play a key role in activating fibromyalgia in the body too.

Which is the cause of what?

As more is becoming known about how fibromyalgia affects your sympathetic nervous system, the easier it is to see how it relates to post traumatic stress disorder. It isn’t so much that one will cause the other, but that the presence of one may increase the risk of the other.

The action of PTSD on the immune system may very well set up the environment that welcomes fibromyalgia. Vice versa, fibromyalgia may create an amplified body syndrome that can then escalate into post-traumatic stress disorder given the right circumstances.

One thing that a recent study in Israel may have identified is that post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia may be very prevalent in men. This is key as though past thinking has held that fibromyalgia is primarily a woman’s disease, new thinking is that we don’t recognize the male cluster of symptoms as readily. This could mean more relief for men, and a better understanding for how to treat women too.

How to treat both

If you look at each disorder separately and then compare their common recommended treatments, you can see that there is a great deal of overlap. Both are treated with anti-depressants to help control serotonin levels in the body, and they may also be treated with anti-anxiety agents.

Both also recommend life style changes as a long term management system such as diet, exercise, meditation and other habits. While if you have one and suspect you have the other you can be proactive in seeking control of your symptoms, there is something you should watch out for.

What to watch out for

The problem with post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia is that there symptoms are very similar. They are different in a very important way – which is the post-traumatic psychiatric effect which can lead to flashbacks and anxiety.

You need a diagnosis, not just to self-treat, because the effects of PTSD, and the depression commonly caused by fibromyalgia are two very different things that need to be addressed professionally for you to gain relief.

Treatment for both combine medication, alternative treatments and lifestyle changes to give you the most relief. Remain open to trying new things as no one solution will work to relieve all of your symptoms. It is important to remember that post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia are both disorders that can be successfully managed.

Further reading:

Posttraumatic Stress, Fibromyalgia Linked: http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/news/20040610/posttraumatic-stress-fibromyalgia-linked?page=2

Posttraumatic stress disorder in fibromyalgia syndrome: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23685006

What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml