The twins: Fibromyalgia/ PTSD

“After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment”, Judith Lewis Herman

In my book almost a decade ago, I wrote about Gulf War syndrome and the similarities between this condition and fibromyalgia. From the terms ‘shell shock’ and ‘Gulf War syndrome’ has emerged the contemporary ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’  label.  We have now landed firmly on the relationship between these three conditions and fibromyalgia. Years and years of studying and researching on the topic of fibromyalgia has convinced me that PTSD and fibromyalgia are the same thing. There I’ve said it! And, finally others are saying it too. What do all those terms share in common?   How is it that PTSD and fibromyalgia are twined? Wars, abuse, crises, trauma of many sorts take their toll on us all, but it is the highly sensitive person whose psyche becomes over-burdened. Here are the ways in which the two conditions match:

Sleep: Insomnia is insidious, silent and invisible. Worse still are night terrors and dreams that rob peace of mind and wears one down. Not only do physical ailments develop from unrestful sleep, but also emotional problems develop. Things that seem bearable somewhat during the day become unbearable in the dark. Sleep deprivation and other disturbances are common.

Anxiety: Often gripped with the feeling of dread but cannot tell why. There is a constant merry-go-round of fearful thoughts in the brain. Looking constantly for anticipated trouble. A neurotic terror of the unknown is a frequent companion. The world is seen in black and white. The anxiety levels rise to panic. Change is not well tolerated.

Lack of contentment: Achieving even  little contentment and peace is a struggle. Living in the moment is difficult as there is anticipation of the possibility that danger lurks around the corner. Living with tension and fear of the future while remembering the past is common.

Lack of resilience: Easily startled, frightened even when not in a dangerous situation. Flashbacks in terms of smells, sights and sounds from shocking, scary or crises once experienced. Negative thoughts about oneself results in being hard on self, mired in depressive thoughts.

Along with these emotional reactions there are the physical ailments that accompany the emotional ones. Pain, fatigue, abdominal upsets, lack of energy, sensitivity to sounds, smells and frightening sights, uncontrollable itching, tingling of limbs and a myriad of other symptoms are what PTSD and fibromyalgia have in common to a lesser or higher degree.

  • Each person is unique and may or may not share all of these emotional and physical symptoms but the similarities can no longer go unheeded.



10 thoughts on “The twins: Fibromyalgia/ PTSD

  1. Deidre King

    I too am convinced that PTSD is Fibromyalgia. I did not have any improvement in the fibromyalgia untill I started seeing a psychologist. She is wonderfully compassionate and acknowledgeing. Then after 2 and a half years of counseling I started weight lifting…not heavy weights,,,just between 5 and 20 pounds. But that reduced my symptoms even further. With the combination of counseling and weight lifting I am able to purge my anxieties/tensions/fears as well as the accompanying muscle tension it all creates and lead a pretty good life. I still cant go back to work but my life is soo much better now. Thanks for saying it!!!

  2. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Deidre: I agree with you that for those who can, lifting weights is an excellent strengthening exercise and for you it has been a way of purging your anxieties. Many of us don’t have the ability to lift weights but for those younger than myself I believe it is one (of man) forms of light exercise. Your comments are helpful and will be of interest to many.
    Thank you,

  3. Sandra Madonna

    I am so glad I finally found someone in the group to understand the conditions that go along with fibromyalgia it’s the same as what’s been said go from high functioning person like I can do it all myself to like I can’t do this anymore and yeah PTSD and it all makes sense I’m glad the medical community is finally understanding that and hopefully other people will as well

  4. Betty Eplee

    In 1991, I was treated for FMS. No problems since 1994, now swollen hands and feet, shooting pain down sides of neck and not enough strenghth to pull my own pants up. They say it is Polymyalgia Rheumatica. What say you? The put me on a round of Predisone.

  5. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Oh my dear Betty: I know PMR very, very well. My husband has it! He developed it in October, was so sick with pain and lack of energy. Finally after about a month the Dr diagnosed him with polymyalgia rheumatica. He began him on Prednisone and three hours later the pain left and has never come back. He has been decreasing the dosage one mg per month and will be off it entirely in November. FORTUNATELY PMR IS TREATABLE! It goes away! FIBROMYALGIA DOES NOT GO AWAY! Therein lies the major difference. Fibromyalgia usually begins in early to midlife and PMR usually occurs only after 50 yeas of age. Otherwise they are so similar. The internist told my husband that there was no known cause yet but unlike fibro there are tests for diagnosis and the treatments are specific.
    Another unexplained medical phenomenon.
    Keep on the Prednisone and you will be decreasing it very gradually over the next year or so.
    Best wishes,

  6. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Sandra: I do hope that the medical community is finally understanding the connection between the two. I’m not sure they do yet! You are right- the high functioning person suffers so much, loosing that energy can be devastating. Leads to so many psycho-social issues and discouragement. Thanks for your comments,

  7. Brigitte

    Dear Barbara, I just want to inform you – and through you all people interested that there is a Summit called the Fibro-fix-Summit where all sort of very knowledgable people in the wide field of mostly alternative medicine and healing practice talk about fibromyalgia. As I have taken part in a few other summits of this sort lately – and was highly impressed by the great wisdom I found there – I would like to inform you. The summit starts tomorrow. Link:
    I hope I am of some help to you and all of us
    Best wishes : Biggi

  8. Linda Davis

    I was recently diagnosed with this. I have had the symptons since 2004. It started two weeks after I had gastric bypass surgery. The surgery was a life saver for me but I have had to learn how to live with tbis miserable pain and other symptons of it. Thank you so much for this valuable information. I understand this so much more clearly now.

  9. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Linda:
    I expect there is so much for you to absorb. The terms ‘central sensitization’ (that is in plain speak the central nervous system is overly sensitized), ‘PTSD’, ‘fibromyalgia’, ‘chronic pain’ are all members of the same family. Your central nervous system has had a traumatic event from the surgery and given you are likely a highly sensitive person and have had trauma in your life(who hasn’t?), no doubt prone to anxiety, all together has resulted in the central nervous system to say to your brain:”ENOUGH” .But there are so many things that can be done to help minimize the pain, among them mindfulness meditation, light yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, walking and living in the moment with gratitude that you have had major surgery and you are alive!Working with those troubling thoughts every moment, thinking you are never going to find relief is counter productive. Keep up your courage!

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