Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The 411 on Fibromyalgia Flare-ups

I use a lot of chronic illness terminology here on my blog. I also try to take the time to explain what it means. Today I want to talk about flare-ups: what they are, how to tell if you are having one and what causes them.

What is a flare-up?
Our friends over at Merriam-Webster.com define a flare-up as:
: a sudden outburst of or increase in the symptoms of a disease or condition
How do I know when I am having a flare-up?

It's easy to assume that more intense and troubling symptoms means that you are having a flare-up. I found that tracking my chronic illness symptoms over time helps me decide if I am having a flare-up of my fibromyalgia or if something new and different is happening.

You can do the same using a symptom log form like the one I found at the CFIDS & FM Self Help website.
Knowing my symptoms helps me decide if I need to see my doctor when I seem to be having a flare-up. (Plus if I have recently injured myself, like when my shower bench broke underneath me, I get checked out because my doctor knows that my chronic pain can mask new problems.)

For example, knee pain wasn't one of my regular fibromyalgia and chronic pain symptoms. So the first time I had intense, sleep-disrupting knee pain, I went to the doctor for a work-up. When the doctor couldn't find anything wrong with my knees that would explain my intense, new pain, we determined it was part of a fibromyalgia flare-up.

So what causes flare-ups?

Just like your symptoms, the causes of your flare-ups can be very specific to you and your condition(s.) Here is a list of some things that cause me to get flared up, which I am sharing to help you get started in thinking about what contributes to your flare-ups:
  1. Overdoing or overextending myself physically, mentally and/or emotionally.
  2. Lack of sleep or changes in sleep pattern.
  3. Prolonged time in one body position, i.e. sitting in a movie theater or driving in the car.
  4. Viral and bacterial infections, i.e. getting a cold or flu or worsening of my other health conditions.
  5. Changes in my medications and/or over-the-counter remedies, herbs and supplements. (This might be something as small as a change from one medication manufacturer to another.)
  6. Over stimulation of any sense: taste, touch, sound, sight and smell.
  7. Seasonal variations in the weather.
  8. Mental and emotional stressors like lack of support, anxiety about finances and relationship discord.
  9. Hormonal changes associate with my monthly cycle, like peri-menopause and menopause symptoms. (This does apply to men as well.)
  10. Sensitivities or allergies to certain foods or hygiene products I use, like soap, make-up, laundry detergent, etc. (Note that new sensitivities and allergies can develop.)

The key I have discovered to uncovering my flare-up triggers is observing, tracking and recording the relationship between symptoms and things like sleep, rest, activities and events by using an activity log.

I know it seems like a lot of work to figure out your symptoms and flare-ups triggers, but tomorrow I am going to discuss the payoffs for fibromyalgia scientists who take this approach to managing their fibromyalgia (and other chronic illnesses.)

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Nhmommaof5 said...

I just adore your blog, it just helps me make sense of this disease and to know I'm not alone. Can I link this article to my family, I know it would help them understand.

Blessings, Krista

A multi-dimensional life said...

This is very helpful info!
Thank you so much! Over the years, I've had some of the sypmtoms you describe, but have never been diagnosed with fibromaylgia. I'm beginning to wonder. I will pay closer attention to some of the things you describe here. I'm intrigued as you mention the sensitivities to fragrances, etc.
Sometimes I just cannot be around certain smells. I can certainly relate to your title...oh my aches and pains!!
Bless you and Happy, Healthy New Year!

Jennifer said...

I am dealing with flares resulting from long holiday car trips right now... and my first really severe flare was caused by a 14 hour car trip! What are some of your coping strategies for travel? I am always looking for new ideas!! :)

Shannon said...

I still have a great deal of difficulty deciding what constitutes a flare for me or just a bad pain day. I so so suck at pacing. But I am taking Bruce's course in a few days and am excited to learn what it has to offer.

Anonymous said...

I have just recently been diagnosed with this disease.. I am 29 and have been dealing with aches and pains my hole life. I also have lupus and arthritis through out my hole body so it is very hard for me to tell the difference between the pain. but i can tell when i am having a flare up because i will get a migraine. I have spen well over half my life in either a hospital or doctors office and i just wanted to say the way you write about this disease and still sound so up beat is very moving to me and makes me think maybe there is more to life than just being sick

Anonymous said...

My name is Wendy I live in southern MN. I have been dealing with FM since 1994. I am cronic now. I have been to a pain clinic and my DOC makes it a speciality to look at the latest on this wonderful condition. I have sensitivity to smells, sounds, meds, allergies,I have worked in phyical demanding jobs my whole life including nursing homes.

Anonymous said...

it is such an emotional help to know that others go through the same fibro pains. i recently changed my anti depressant to Cymbalta, it is early days (only one month) and i am hoping it will help me. however, for the past two days my heart beat seems out of sync, i am wondering if this is a new type of flare-up for me. good luck to you all out there.
i use heat on my painful hip area. do any of you find heat or cold more helpful?

christine.vizzini said...

Thank you thank you! I have been looking for a log or a way to keep track of my activities and symptoms. I am in the midst of a terrible flare up and I am trying to find the causes/triggers. My hip pain is unbearable to the point of tears and the knee pain is horrible. Migranes and peeing every two seconds it seems like (sleep what's that). Back pain is worse than usual also. Thoughts and prayers to the rest of you that are suffering with FMS and chronic pain. Salon pas are a good temporary pain reliever better than most other pain patches. Any useful tips are appreciated. I am not new to the pain but new to the diagnosis. Thanks again. Here is my email if anyone wants to converse or has useful info. christine.vizzini@gmail.com

Unknown said...

I greatly enjoy your blog. Fibromyalgia can often leave you isolated, feeling like no one truly understands. It's good to know that's not true. I am in the middle of a horrible flare caused by stress and emotional distress. I finally realized that after five years of trying to get my family to understand that I have an actual illness, they are not going to stop insisting that I'm "just depressed" as if that would be better and make me out to be simply over emotional. Depression is in itself a serious disease, but they use it as a way to minimize me. It's good to have people like you around, to help me remember that I'm not crazy or a drama queen. Thank you for being here.

Spirit said...

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia 8 years ago. But as of 2 years ago I have weakness in legs, muscle cramps in it calves that come and go but it's not at the same time. I don't smell much anymore or taste much. I see black spots in eyes but not at the same time. Get weird pain on scalp and behind ears once in a while. Inflammation in body gets really high. And doctors won't look for anything other than fibromyalgia. They blame everything on it. I can't stay in the sun or any bright lights. I will get pounding headaches or pressure headaches almost everyday. I see 4 different drs which is rheumatologist, cardiologist, g.I specialist and my primary. I caught an infection in stomach which caused I. B.s 6 months ago. I'm getting worse and my drs aren't listening to me. Any suggestions on this please and thank you