Fibromyalgia: Is This Mysterious Illness Causing Your Pain and Fatigue?

January 10, 2018

As an IT professional, Lisa Carbrey is great at problem-solving. But last year she had one big problem she couldn’t solve: what was causing her chronic pain, fatigue and brain fog?

When her symptoms first started, Carbrey was enrolled in a challenging leadership program at work while juggling her full-time job and her role as an overseas tour guide. “Maybe I’m just overdoing it,” she thought. But as time went on, she found it more and more difficult to even get out of bed. And it wasn’t just her joints that were in pain. Random areas of her body would suddenly become extremely painful to the touch for no apparent reason.

Since Carbrey lives in a wooded area and has had several tick bites, and a spider bite just before the symptoms started, she was concerned they could be related. She went to her primary care doctor, who ordered blood tests that determined her level of inflammation and ruled out tick-borne illnesses and rheumatoid arthritis. Her doctor prescribed steroids, but those didn’t help much. Exhausting all options, Lisa’s doctor referred her to Dr. Manpreet Tiwana, a Shore Physicians Group rheumatologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis, musculoskeletal pain disorders, osteoporosis and certain autoimmune diseases.

Finally an Answer
After reviewing Lisa’s test results and history, Dr. Tiwana diagnosed Carbrey with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a chronic and complex pain disorder of the muscles and joints that causes widespread muscle pain and fatigue. It can only be diagnosed based on a patient’s reported symptoms and by ruling out all other possible illnesses through testing.

While little is known about the causes of fibromyalgia, it is believed to result from a problem in how the brain and spinal cord process pain signals from the nerves.

“Patients can be genetically predisposed to develop fibromyalgia, but there are also a number of other triggers including physical stress resulting from something like a major illness, or emotional stress. Sometimes fibromyalgia can manifest as an associated condition with another type of autoimmune disorder, like lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, or rheumatoid arthritis,” says Dr. Tiwana.

While it was scary for Carbrey to learn she has a lifelong condition that is not well understood or curable, she also felt a sense of relief now that she has an answer.

“Knowing what was causing my symptoms relieved quite a bit of the stress about my current and future health,” Carbrey says.

Having an answer also means Carbrey can take action to manage her symptoms. She takes a fibromyalgia medication along with turmeric curcumin and magnesium supplements. She also has regular massage therapy to loosen her tight muscles. She even switched from driving a manual transmission vehicle to an automatic because pushing the clutch all the time was painful. Although these things help, Carbrey stresses that medication does not return you to your previous way of life. Even on medication, she never really knows day-to-day how she will feel.

An Invisible Illness
“As with other invisible illnesses, people look at me and expect me to be the person I used to be, but inside I might be dealing with any number of symptoms, like severe pain, a splitting headache, dizziness, nausea, brain fog and memory problems, depression and anxiety. Every day the symptoms are different,” Carbrey says.

Carbrey feels lucky to have coworkers, family, and friends who are understanding and supportive, but she realizes not everyone is as fortunate. She is active in an online community for people with fibromyalgia and recently became an ambassador for the group. In her role, she is able to help other people who have the condition and share ways to overcome symptoms.

If you are experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia, but you are unsure of where to start, talk to your doctor about testing to rule out other conditions and find the source of your pain and fatigue. You may also ask to visit a rheumatologist like Dr. Manpreet Tiwana of Shore Physicians Group, who can help expedite your diagnosis and help you better manage your illness. Dr. Tiwana treats patients at Shore Physicians Group’s Somers Point and Mays Landing offices. To learn more, visit www.shorephysiciansgroup.org or call 609-365-6200.