How the Signs of Fibromyalgia Differ from Adrenal Fatigue

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

What are the signs of Fibromyalgia?

Signs of fibromyalgia are manyFibromyalgia is a condition of widespread pain and tenderness, fatigue, impaired cognition, and a host of other possible symptoms. There are many physical and mental signs of Fibromyalgia. Currently, the cause is unknown, and diagnosis is made by confirmation of symptoms, excluding other possible causes. The American College of Rheumatology’s criteria for diagnosis is: widespread pain for more than three months, fatigue, waking unrefreshed, and cognitive impairment.

Hypotheses to its cause are genetic abnormalities, traumatic or chronic stress, metabolic imbalances, or psychological factors. Signs of Fibromyalgia include:

  • Widespread pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Depression
  • Temperature sensitivity
  • Headaches
  • Muscle weakness

What is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is a similar condition characterized by fatigue that is often relieved by rest. AFS is not recognized by conventional medicine as a diagnosable condition, because there is no gross pathology. The condition is a result of chronic stress that overworks the adrenal glands’ stress control functions leading to a decline in function. This decline causes an imbalance of adrenal hormones, which over time will cascade out, causing imbalances in associated hormones such as from the thyroid. The symptoms of AFS include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint and Muscle Pain with no Apparent Cause
  • Insomnia
  • Unclear Thinking and Cognitive Impairment
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Worsening Allergies
  • Low Body Temperature
  • Menstrual Irregularities and PMS
  • Salt Cravings
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Hypoglycemia

Is there a connection between AFS and Fibromyalgia?

Fatigue is one of the most common signs of fibromyalgiaThe two conditions are considered separate, but there are some striking similarities, both in proposed etiology and in symptoms. In fact, many people with fibromyalgia are also found to be suffering from AFS. It has been suggested by some that AFS and fibromyalgia may share a common root cause in the form of stress. As well, many other related conditions of AFS can include fibromyalgia. Other possible suggested connections include stress from fibromyalgia precipitating AFS, or vice versa, that the increased stress from the onset of AFS symptoms may also precipitate the presentation of fibromyalgia symptoms.

How can we tell the difference?

At current, there are no tests that can biochemically confirm either condition or detect signs of fibromyalgia, so there is no way to definitively determine their connection or fully separate them. However, given the similarity in symptoms, proposed etiology, and overlap in sufferers, the evidence strongly suggests there is some interaction. The shared set of symptoms between AFS and signs of fibromyalgia, whether they are interpreted as one condition or the other, are indicative of a body out of balance. The two conditions are so connected that the difference between them is less important when we consider that restoring balance to the body will at least result in alleviation of the severity of the condition and associated symptoms. The focus should not be on whether you have one condition or the other, since there is most likely some of both. The focus should be how to recover from them.

How can AFS and/or fibromyalgia be helped?

Since AFS is not currently a recognized medical condition, there are no conventional medical protocols for its treatment. Fibromyalgia, on the other hand, is a defined condition by conventional medical standards; however, there is no known cure, and treatment focuses on palliative alleviation of symptoms. Painkillers, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications along with cognitive and exercise therapies, are all treatment options used with varying degrees of success. Regardless of their efficacy, however, conventional medical treatment does not cure Fibromyalgia.

Try heat therapy for signs of fibromyalgiaDespite the inability to treat AFS from a conventional medical perspective, there are alternative treatment protocols that are very successful at resolving the condition. A properly conducted combination of stress reduction, dietary changes, and natural supplementation helps to rebalance the body’s internal homeostasis and has been successful for many people in recovering from even severe AFS. Heat therapy also has its place. Furthermore, since there is a deep connection between AFS and Fibromyalgia, recovering the body from AFS often results in resolution or alleviation of many Fibromyalgia symptoms.

So considering the connected nature of AFS and Fibromyalgia, the importance of whether the symptoms are indicative of one or the other, is not nearly as important as putting the body on track to achieve a balanced recovery and resolve the symptoms.

We have mentioned that the similarities between AFS and fibromyalgia can be inferred, especially when considering the symptoms they share. With this in mind, we can bring attention to one of the causes of AFS, being the surplus of stress that a body cannot handle, regarded within the structure of the neuroendometabolic (NEM) stress response. Being that AFS and fibromyalgia could possibly share the same pathological mechanism, you could indirectly argue that addressing issues of the NEM’s response system will not only assist in AFS but also alleviate symptoms of fibromyalgia. It could therefore pay dividends to your health with regards to both AFS and fibromyalgia, if you allow the body to recover from influences such as stress or by-products of environmental toxins. The NEM’s stress response is a multifaceted network that consists of systems in our body e.g. the central nervous system as well as specific organs such as the liver. This combination provides us with a holistic overview of how the human body is able to cope with stress and what occurs when it is encumbered with chronic stress that it can no longer handle. One of the essential properties of a normally functioning NEM’s stress response is allowing it to recover through rest and time.
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I wanna thank you. Your advice to me was one of my keys to recovery of lymes disease and handling it and my fibromyalgia. you said "JERRY YOU'RE TRYING TO DO THE 'RIGHT THING AT THE WRONG TIME'" and you were very right. I stopped trying to force feed my unready highly sensitive body with vitamins and went back to basics. Although the vitamin pushers still tried to insist I knew we are individuals and our body knows. I also got the IV treatment I needed finally and I am sooooo much better. I thank u immensely. Thank you Dr. Lam, you were part of my recovery.