Fibromyalgia affects about two out of one hundred people in the population and is about seven times more common in women than men, according to health.usnews.com. The condition, characterized by all-over pain, fatigue, and sleep and memory problems, and is believed to a result of a glitch in the central nervous system – not the aching body part or parts themselves, says Dr. Daniel Clauw, a professor of anesthesiology, rheumatology and psychiatry at the University of Michigan, where he directs Michigan’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center that studies fibromyalgia and what exacerbates and causes it.
Some chronic diseases are helped by pregnancy. However, fibromyalgia does not appear to be one of those – likely because the taxing strain of bearing weight and increased blood flow that occurs during pregnancy, said Daniel Clauw.
“Thus, they feel more things in their body as painful that other people [who] have a lower volume-control setting would not feel as pain. A paper cut could feel like a deeper slash; a walk might leave legs as heavy as post-marathon a twisted ankle could feel broken. Pregnancy does put musculoskeletal strain on the body, it does disrupt sleep and it does make people stop their regular exercise routines. Sometimes, do better than they think they’ll do, and they do better than I think they’ll do.”
One fledgling study conducted in 2005 indicates that pregnant women with the condition experience more pain, fatigue, and psychological stress than those without fibromyalgia. For Christy, a patient with fibromyalgia, the disease did cause worsening “fibro fog,” which usually manifests as language errors, such as confusing similar words – this was more frequent during her pregnancy. However, research has concluded that pregnancy in general may cause forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating, which is sometimes referred to as “pregnancy brain,” and those conditions are difficult to control for in research studies.
There is research data that suggests that fibromyalgia may have an immune system factor, and sometimes, according to Dr. Clauw, pregnancy causes immune responses to lessen and quiet considerably, which gives some women relief from their fibromyalgia symptoms.
Clauw also suspects that oxytocin, a chemical produced during pregnancy and breastfeeding that may encourage mother/infant bonding, may play a significant role in easing symptoms of fibromyalgia.
“It can also make new motherhood better. New moms are not sleeping at all, they’re waking up every two hours, they’re not exercising at all, it’s stressful to be new mother. That was where I was particularly surprised that a lot of people were doing better than they had before they had become pregnant.”
Regardless of the findings of any study, there are tried and true methods for dealing with fibromyalgia. One is to seek a support group, which is helpful to any new mom, particularly those dealing with chronic illness. Another is to get — and stay — active. It’s been proven that those with fibromyalgia experience less symptoms while on an exercise program, and therefore, unless the pregnancy is complicated, should strive to stay as active as possible.
Fibromyalgia mom Chrisy says modifications in lifestyle are imperative to feeling well during pregnancy.
“I swear by my ‘large body pillow’ that I use to sleep during pregnancy – and still use it today. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep again. That wouldn’t be good, since sleep helps ‘replenish the neurotransmitters in our central nervous system.'”
Of course, it is imperative to consider your own limitations. If you must work somewhere that that is highly physically demanding, it may be wise to seek your doctor’s opinion.
[Photo via Doug Shutter/shutterstock]