Why a Bad Night’s Sleep Causes More Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

It’s no secret that chronic pain makes sleeping difficult. And lack of sleep often makes pain worse.  But how exactly does poor sleep cause more pain?

For the first time, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have identified neural glitches in the sleep-deprived brain that can intensify and prolong pain. Their findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, help explain the self-perpetuating cycles that contribute to pain and sleep loss.

“Anyone who has had persistent back pain knows that they don’t sleep well when they are in pain. They also know that when they don’t sleep well, it hurts more the next day,” said senior author Matthew Walker, PhD, a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology.

"If poor sleep intensifies our sensitivity to pain, as this study demonstrates, then sleep must be placed much closer to the center of patient care, especially in hospital wards.”

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In a small study involving 25 healthy young adults, Walker and his colleagues found that nerves that process pain signals and activate the body’s pain relief hormones are disrupted by insufficient sleep. Study participants were given MRI brain scans twice – once after a good night’s sleep and once after a night of no sleep – and then subjected to a thermal pain test in the laboratory  

“We found some surprising changes. The sleep-deprived brain seems to let more pain in,” Walker said.

Brain imaging showed increased activity in the brain's somatosensory cortex, but there was less activity in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain's reward circuitry that increases dopamine levels. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s been called the “feel-good hormone” because it is associated with feelings of euphoria and happiness.

Another key brain region found to slow down in the sleep-deprived brain was the insula, which evaluates pain signals and prepares the body to respond.

"This is a critical neural system that assesses and categorizes the pain signals and allows the body's own natural painkillers to come to the rescue," said Adam Krause, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Walker's Center for Human Sleep Science lab at UC Berkeley.

To further test the sleep-pain connection, researchers surveyed more than 230 adults of all ages nationwide. Respondents were asked to report their nightly hours of sleep, as well as their day-to-day pain levels. The results showed that even minor shifts in sleep patterns were correlated with changes in pain sensitivity.

"The results clearly show that even very subtle changes in nightly sleep -- reductions that many of us think little of in terms of consequences -- have a clear impact on your next-day pain burden," Krause said.

"The optimistic takeaway here is that sleep is a natural analgesic that can help manage and lower pain," said Walker. "Yet ironically, one environment where people are in the most pain is the worst place for sleep -- the noisy hospital ward."

Walker's goal is to work with hospitals to create more sleep-friendly patient facilities.

"Our findings suggest that patient care would be markedly improved, and hospital beds cleared sooner, if uninterrupted sleep were embraced as an integral component of healthcare management," he said.

Several previous studies have found that getting a good night’s sleep helps reduce sensitivity to pain. Researchers in Norway measured pain sensitivity in more than 10,000 adults and found a strong link between pain and insomnia.

Another study in Norway found that women who have trouble sleeping are at greater risk of developing fibromyalgia – although it’s not clear if there’s a cause and effect relationship between the two symptoms.

Pain Researchers Say Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Most people with chronic pain recognize the importance of good sleeping habits. A night spent tossing and turning can mean a day full of aches and pains.

For that reason, dog lovers are often told they shouldn’t sleep with their pet. One survey of pet owners found that over half said their dogs tend to wake them at least once during the night. Sleeping with a pet can also be unsanitary and lead to behavioral problems.   

"Typically, people who have pain also have a lot of sleep problems, so usually if they ask their healthcare provider about a pet, they're told to get the pet out of the bedroom. But that standard advice can actually be damaging," says Cary Brown, PhD, a Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta.

Brown is co-author of a small study, published in the journal of Social Sciences, in which seven chronic pain patients who slept with their dogs were asked about their pets’ impact on their sleep. Brown said the response was "overwhelmingly positive."

"They liked the physical contact with their dogs—cuddling before bed, and how it distracted them from feeling anxious about being alone at night. They felt more relaxed and safer, so they weren't anxious as they were trying to sleep," said Brown.

"A sense of relaxation and caring are emotions that release positive hormones in our bodies that will help us sleep better."

Having our pets sleep with us can also help ward off loneliness. A dog can take on a significant role for the chronically ill when friends drift away and social circles shrink.

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“I’ve got my buddy and I’ve got my companion hanging out with me and I don’t get that loneliness,” one patient said.

“I always have got somebody to cuddle and make me feel loved when I am lonely and in pain and when I am trying to sleep,” said another.

Researchers say doctors need to have deeper conversations with their patients before suggesting that a pet sleep somewhere else.

"When you ask people to remove an animal they are in the habit of co-sleeping with, it could have consequences the health-care provider hasn't considered," Brown said. "For some people with chronic pain, their relationship with their pet could be the only one they have and the comfort that dog or cat produces would be lost."

For some patients, it’s also a reciprocal relationship. They try to help their dogs sleep and comfort them when they have pain.

“She [the dog] has days when she experiences lots of pain, I make myself get down on the floor at her level …. I will sit with her and talk with her and very softly, very calmly, I make a point of massaging her ever so gently,” one woman said. “I find this brings down her heart rate, she’s not in pain, the pain is starting to go down. I can physically see the changes in her and eventually she nods off to sleep.”

Although dogs have been living with people for thousands of years – and often sleeping with them – surprisingly little is known about the emotional and physical benefits of sharing a bed.

“This small study shines a light on this important and yet neglected area of research. It reveals that for these participants their dog appears to enhance their sleep in many ways. Further research is warranted to explore more fully the ways in which pet dogs influence sleep for people with chronic pain,” said Brown.

When Home Feels More Like a Prison

By Mia Maysack, PNN Columnist

Recently, my primary care doctor recommended I go in for a “sleep study,” which is exactly what it sounds like. My immediate thought was, “I've been doing my own sleep study for 28 years, want to know what I’ve learned?”

But jumping through society's hoops is an art form that I've somewhat mastered, so let's flash forward to the appointment that took place weeks later.  

I’m in a closet sized room with a sleep study “fellow” -- meaning I'm going to sit there and essentially explain my whole life story to him, and then I get to do it again with the actual doctor.  

He's asking me about sleep, naturally, so I tell him there’s no sense of regularity as I am fortunate if I get a couple solid hours of sleep a night. I ordinarily never reach my REM cycle, so eventually my body will crash and burn -- resulting in too much sleep that's damaging to my natural rhythm and makes the existing problem worse. 

Chronic pain impacts every aspect of my life, but they have no interest in discussing that because this appointment is only about sleep. How is it productive to disregard the biggest motivational factor in the situation at hand?  Guess I'll have to go to medical school to find out.

Then comes the medication talk, which has actually gotten easier over the years as I've stopped playing the role of a pharmaceutical guinea pig -- hence there being less to discuss. All of the drugs he recommends I have already tried, and I am now only interested in holistic approaches.

This is when he brings up anxiety and depression, almost as ammunition against me -- or so it felt like. Do I consider myself anxious or depressed? How long have I been afflicted?  Then comes a whole new list of pill suggestions that are thought to help anxiety and depression. I feel like we are both wasting our time.

pain art courtesy of painexhibit.org

pain art courtesy of painexhibit.org

"Anyone would feel that way if they endured never-ending, agonizing pain,” I told him.   

He looks at my paperwork, sees that I've selected “homemaker” under employment and proceeds to say, “You don't work, so..."

This remark was declared in such a way as to suggest it is no wonder that I'm not tired, because I don't do anything all day.

"I actually work quite a bit," I objected and proceeded to list my duties.

I maintain the house while my lovely fiancé works. I cook, clean and do laundry. I have ownership over taking care of our doggy daughter, Aiva. I facilitate monthly group meetings, write newsletters, moderate online forums and volunteer countless hours. I also attempt to maintain a bite-size version of a social life and strive to make self-care a priority. 

Oh! And I live within a body that mostly feels as though it is deconstructing from the inside out.

He reported that naps are detrimental to our health, which is a comment I shrugged off because, clearly, he's never been chronically ill and has yet to be a parent.

People may peer into the window of my life and think to themselves how nice it must be to sit around at home all day while a man goes out to earn his keep as well as mine. But I've got some quick facts for anyone that would spend even a split moment envying the life of a chronic pain warrior.

I've been in the process of pursuing disability for just shy of four years -- which I began a decade after I really should have. But I was so hard on myself and likely a bit too proud, for this isn't at all the life I had envisioned. But I am grateful and committed to making the best out of it while demanding my ailments be validated.   

Prior to getting engaged, the place we live in was paid for in full by me. Even after becoming unwell to the point of stepping away from full-time work, I still continued to attempt working part-time outside of the home. But I was digging myself a hole in the ground, which led to the need of accepting even that was not in the cards, which led to the emergency need to access my retirement funds. 

I do not share this information for attention or pity but merely to drive the point home as to how crippling all of this can be on a person, especially over a long period of time. For some of us, home is less a place of tranquility and feels more like a prison.

Yesterday, I cleaned and organized our home, got laundry done, ran some errands and cooked a delicious healthy dinner. Today, I stayed in bed until 10:45 am, didn't leave the house, have difficultly navigating the stairs, hope to vacuum later if able, and have pain in every extremity. 

These are things that this fellow, as well as the doctor that graced us with his 30 second presence, didn’t seem to care about, let alone have the time to begin to understand. 

I'm thankful that I can do the things I can when I am able. It's imperative we take full advantage of the gifts we have while still able to do so, as we never know what tomorrow will bring. All it would take is a slight change in circumstance to make what may feel like the worst even worse.

Living as Spoonies, we are much too quick to accept being dehumanized. We even do it at times to ourselves.  May we all unapologetically let go of the weight of feeling we must somehow justify, explain, excuse or defend ourselves. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have, and know that is it both worthwhile and good enough.  

Benefits from my sleep study appointment include the mention of melatonin supplements, something I've tried in the past and will consider trying again, as well as “light therapy” to promote a regular internal clock which I plan to follow up on.

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Mia Maysack resides in Wisconsin.  She lives with chronic migraine, cluster headaches and fibromyalgia.  Mia is the founder of a wellness and life coaching practice for the chronically ill, and was recently honored by the U.S. Pain Foundation as its “Pain Warrior of the Month.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Childhood Trauma Linked to Adult Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

If you experienced physical or emotional trauma as a child – like a major illness, abuse or your parents’ divorce – you are more likely to experience pain as an adult, according to researchers at Penn State.

Their findings -- published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine – add to previous research suggesting there’s a link between adult physical pain and childhood trauma or adversity.

"Pain is the number one reason people seek health care in the United States," said co-author Jennifer Graham-Engeland, PhD, a professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State. “We need more insight into pain and the phenomenon that can make pain both better or worse."

The researchers surveyed a diverse group of 265 adults who lived in a housing cooperative in the Bronx, New York.  All reported at least one form of trauma or adversity as children or adolescents. Some reported as many as seven.

A traumatizing event that left a person scared for years was the most common adversity (44%), followed by parental divorce (31%), a major illness or accident requiring hospitalization (24%), parental substance abuse (24%), sexual abuse (23%), parental unemployment (21%), a child’s removal from the home (10%) and physical abuse (10%).

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Participants were also asked about their current mood, sleep patterns, optimism, how in control of their lives they felt, and if they recently felt pain.

Those who experienced more adversity or trauma as children were more likely to have mood or sleep problems as adults -- which in turn made them more likely to have physical pain. But the connection to pain was weaker in those who felt more optimistic and resilient.

"The participants who felt more optimistic or in control of their lives may have been better at waking up with pain but somehow managing not to let it ruin their day," said Ambika Mathur, a graduate student in biobehavioral health. "They may be feeling the same amount or intensity of pain, but they've taken control of and are optimistic about not letting the pain interfere with their day. They're still performing their work or daily activities while doing their best to ignore the pain."

The researchers found that childhood or adolescent adversity was strongly associated with more physical pain in adulthood, which could be partially explained by feelings of anger, depression or anxiety -- as well as poor sleep.

"Basically what's happening is mood and sleep disturbances are explaining the link between early life adversity and pain in adulthood," Mathur said. "The findings suggest that early life trauma is leading to adults having more problems with mood and sleep, which in turn lead to them feeling more pain and feeling like pain is interfering with their day."

The researchers also found that people who felt more optimistic or resilient didn't have as strong of a connection between trouble sleeping and pain interfering with their day. This suggests that childhood adversity can be overcome and doesn't necessarily sentence anyone to a lifetime of pain.

"This study does build on a body of research showing a connection between early life adversity and pain, but also that some people can achieve resilience," said Graham-Engeland. “Some people can be relatively resilient to adverse effects in the longer term, while others have a harder time."

Recent studies have also linked childhood trauma to adult migraine and fibromyalgia.

Major Depression Increasing

Pain sufferers aren't the only ones dealing with anxiety or depression. According to a new report from Blue Cross Blue Shield, major depression affects more than 9 million Americans who are commercially insured.

Diagnoses of major depression have risen by 33 percent since 2013. The rate is rising even faster in millennials (up 47%) and adolescents (47% for boys and 65% for girls).

In most cases, major depression coincides with a chronic or behavioral health condition. People diagnosed with depression are three times more likely to suffer from pain related disorders and injuries, and seven times more likely to have a substance use disorder.

It's worth noting that a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that medications used to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders are now involved in more overdoses than opioid pain medication.

Over 25,000 overdoses in 2016 were linked to "psychotherapeutic" medications such as antidepressants, benzodiazepines, anti-psychotics, barbiturates and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) drugs such as Adderall. Deaths linked to psychotherapeutic drugs have risen by 45 percent since 2010.

Over 17,000 Americans died in 2016 from overdoses involving prescription opioids.

Does Coffee Work Better Than Painkillers?

By Pat Anson, Editor

Insomnia and chronic sleep loss are well known to increase pain sensitivity. But an unusual animal study suggests that stimulants that keep you awake – like a cup of coffee -- may give sleep deprived patients more pain relief than morphine or ibuprofen.

That unexpected finding was reached by researchers at Boston Children's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who studied pain sensitivity in sleep deprived laboratory mice.

Unlike other sleep studies that force rodents to stay awake walking treadmills or falling off platforms, the researchers deprived the mice of sleep in a way that mimics what happens with people: They entertained them.

"We developed a protocol to chronically sleep-deprive mice in a non-stressful manner, by providing them with toys and activities at the time they were supposed to go to sleep, thereby extending the wake period," says sleep physiologist Chloe Alexandre, PhD.

“This is similar to what most of us do when we stay awake a little bit too much watching late-night TV each weekday."

The mice wore “tiny headsets” to monitor their sleep cycles and sensitivity. Whenever they showed signs of sleepiness, the mice were given toys to keep them alert.

"Mice love nesting, so when they started to get sleepy, we would give them nesting materials like a wipe or cotton ball," says pain physiologist Alban Latremoliere, PhD. "Rodents also like chewing, so we introduced a lot of activities based around chewing, for example, having to chew through something to get to a cotton ball."

The mice were kept awake for as long as 12 hours in one session, or six hours for five consecutive days. Pain sensitivity was measured by exposing the mice to controlled amounts of heat, cold, pressure or capsaicin -- the chemical agent in chili peppers -- and then seeing how long it took the animal to move from or lick away the discomfort.

"We found that five consecutive days of moderate sleep deprivation can significantly exacerbate pain sensitivity over time in otherwise healthy mice," says Alexandre.

Surprisingly, when the mice were given ibuprofen or morphine, the analgesics didn’t seem to reduce their pain sensitivity. But when the rodents were given caffeine or modafinil, a drug used to promote wakefulness, it blocked the pain caused by sleep loss. Researchers think the caffeine and modafinil gave the mice a jolt of dopamine – a “feel good” hormone – that helped alleviate their pain.

"This represents a new kind of analgesic that hadn't been considered before, one that depends on the biological state of the animal," Clifford Woolf, a professor of neurology and co-senior author of the study. "Such drugs could help disrupt the chronic pain cycle, in which pain disrupts sleep, which then promotes pain, which further disrupts sleep."

The study only involved rodents, but researchers were quick to suggest there are lessons to be learned for people. Rather than just taking painkillers, they say pain patients would benefit from better sleep habits or by taking sleep-promoting medications at night.

"Many patients with chronic pain suffer from poor sleep and daytime fatigue, and some pain medications themselves can contribute to these co-morbidities," notes Kiran Maski, MD, a specialist in sleep disorders at Boston Children's. "This study suggests a novel approach to pain management that would be relatively easy to implement in clinical care.”

A Safe Way to Healthy, Restorative Sleep

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

For many of us suffering from chronic pain, coping with our medical issues can be physically and emotionally draining. Often, the lack of healthy sleep is the culprit.

Living with Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS) and sarcoidosis, I used to constantly wake up in the middle of the night with so much pain it was impossible to get any form of rest. When I was teaching, I somehow went for years trying to teach on “empty” due to a chronic lack of restorative sleep.

I remember having to cheat and use a seating chart to remember the names of my wonderful students, who were sitting right in front of me. These were students I had known, loved and taught for months. It was embarrassing, heartbreaking, and created a sense of loss and hopelessness.

Thankfully, those days are gone. I have gone from years of almost no quality sleep to being someone who goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning feeling well rested. I don’t even remember any dreams, so I am getting the real REM sleep!

How did I do it? A teaspoon of oil made from medical marijuana. I take it before bedtime, mixed with a little applesauce or a small amount of food.

Within an hour, my body is ready for bed and sleep. 

For years I made this oil at home on top of the stove, but today enjoy using the Magical Butter machine. We find that oil made from the indica strain of marijuana works best for sleep. Directions for making the oil can be found on our website. 

I am now both a medical marijuana patient and a caregiver in the state of Rhode Island. Patients visit us with a variety of different illnesses, but the one thing they all have in common is lack of sleep. Without sleep, you lose hope and courage to move forward with your life. Each patient that has tried this oil has found that it gives them rest and hope.

Recently, a young woman and her husband came to our home. Living with both EDS and Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), she had a difficult life, but was hoping to find something to make it easier. We have the same pain doctor and he suggested she get in touch with us to learn about cannabis. 

The first night that she tried the oil, she slept for eight hours and was both thrilled and shocked. She said even her face looked calmer and more rested.  She is now happier, hopeful and has more strength to get through the day.

There was another patient sent to us who was a paraplegic in constant pain. He was angry, miserable and wished he hadn’t been given life-saving surgery after his accident. He was at a loss as to what to do to cope with the life he was now given. 

He tried the oil and was shocked what it did for him. From that point on, the desperate man who first called me and couldn’t even be understood due to his level of pain, was happy, laughing and finding some meaning in his difficult life. He later passed, but the oil gave him a better quality of life and a sense of purpose again.

We have seen one success after another of pain patients getting real quality sleep and rest. We have seen it work for cancer patients, and those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, back pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis and other conditions.

For those of you who are caught up in opioid hysteria and can no longer get medication, I hope you take a moment and think about trying cannabis oil at night for rest. I have used it safely for a decade, since I am not able to metabolize even an aspirin or Tylenol, let alone any opiate. May you find the courage to try it and get the same results.

Ellen Lenox Smith suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis.  Ellen and her husband Stuart are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

For more information about medical marijuana or to contact the Smith's, visit their website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia Can Be Long, Difficult Process

By Lana Barhum

Because of newer, comprehensive methods for treating fibromyalgia, including lifestyle approaches and medication, the prognosis for fibromyalgia patients is slowly improving.  But first a doctor needs to make an accurate diagnosis, which isn’t easy. 

On average, it takes 2 to 3 years to get a diagnosis, and research shows that people with fibromyalgia typically see many doctors before getting one.  Even with a doctor who is knowledgeable about fibromyalgia, it still takes time.

While much research has been devoted to fibromyalgia, a syndrome defined by debilitating widespread muscle pain, cognitive impairment, lack of restorative sleep and extreme fatigue, it is still contested by some in the medical community.  Moreover, there remains considerable disagreement about fibromyalgia's cause, whether it is psychological or physical, and how to treat it. 

That lack of conformity is unfair to the millions living with the real pain and sickness fibromyalgia brings in its wake. Fibromyalgia takes a toll on mental and physical health, relationships and quality of life.

“People with fibromyalgia suffer from severe, daily pain that is widespread throughout the body,” says Dr. Leslie J. Crofford, an NIH-supported researcher at Vanderbilt University. “Their pain is typically accompanied by debilitating fatigue, sleep that does not refresh them, and problems with thinking and memory.”

Why Does a Diagnosis Take So Long?

The one thing the medical community does agree on, is that fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose. But why does it take so long?  Here are some possible explanations. 

Fibromyalgia is not considered a disease.  It is a syndrome, which means a cluster of signs and symptoms that occur together, and create an abnormality or condition. 

Fibromyalgia symptoms often don’t make much sense.  Sleep issues, extreme fatigue, anxiety, headaches, widespread pain and so much more could be attributed to any number of health conditions or bad habits, such as insomnia, stress, not drinking enough water, or smoking.  Additionally, symptoms vary from person-to-person and their severity is constantly changing. 

There are also no universally accepted labs or diagnostic tests for fibromyalgia, so doctors must rely on symptoms to make a diagnosis. Physicians also have to make sure the symptoms are not caused by another health condition.

Criteria for Diagnosing Fibromyalgia

In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology’s (ACR) diagnostic criteria involved physical examination of specific tender points on the bodies of fibromyalgia patients. If patients had at least 11 or 18 tender points, they were given a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.  It was the only method available at the time for diagnosing fibromyalgia, but studies would later point out the limitations of this method.   

The 2010 ACR diagnostic criteria, updated in 2011, utilizes a widespread pain index criteria and a symptom severity score.  In 2016, researchers updated the criteria yet again, reporting their revisions at the ACR's annual meeting in September. 

They determined that a doctor who is knowledgeable about fibromyalgia can make a diagnosis based on symptoms that include widespread pain lasting more than 3 months, as well as other symptoms, such as debilitating fatigue.  Moreover, the doctor must consider the number of areas on the body where the patient has had pain over the past few days and the severity. Lastly, he or she must rule out other potential causes of the patient's pain and symptoms.

It wasn’t until late 2015 that fibromyalgia was finally recognized as an official diagnosis and given a new ICD-10 code (10th revision to International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, a medical classification list by the World Health Organization). This came as a result of many medical advances over the last decade in understanding and acknowledging fibromyalgia.  

Regardless of how far we have come in research and awareness, until there are conventional methods for testing fibromyalgia, it will continue to remain a diagnosis of exclusion.   Doctors will continue to rely on a description of symptoms and pain from patients, which can be difficult to articulate for most people. 

Patients' Responsibility

In late 2008, I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia based on the 1990 criteria.  I know firsthand that living with a cluster of deliberating symptoms and unexplained pain can be frustrating. 

I don’t recall the exact date I was diagnosed, the onset of my symptoms, or what triggered my illness.  What I do recall is that for ten very long years, I visited countless doctors as my pain worsened and the list of symptoms continued to grow.  I would inform doctors I was hurting and extremely exhausted. Some mornings, I couldn’t even get out of bed.  Some treated my symptoms as psychosomatic and others tried treating my physical symptoms. And of course, there were the ones who viewed me as drug-seeking.

Despite my difficult and frustrating experiences, I took responsibility for my health and finding answers.  All I ever wanted during that ten year period was to be believed, but it took a lot of physical and emotional pain to get that.

I know anyone struggling to find answers feels the pain and sentiment in my saying that a diagnosis finally gave me my life back.  It truly did, and even though finding successful treatments has proved challenging, having an actual diagnosis has made life a whole lot easier.

Medicine has come a long ways in diagnosing fibromyalgia, but doctors still need to rely on descriptions of symptoms and pain from patients, which is challenging.   As a patient, it's up to you to keep track of all your symptoms.  Write them down. Note what causes them or worsens them or decreases their intensity.  Most importantly, be aware of how symptoms and pain affect your life.  This will assist your doctor in determining what is wrong and how best to treat it.  

Remember to trust your instincts, stand up for yourself, keep looking for answers and don’t be deterred. 

Lana Barhum lives and works in northeast Ohio. She is a freelance medical writer, patient advocate, legal assistant and mother.

Having lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008, Lana uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness. She has written for several online health communities, including Alliance Health, Upwell, Mango Health, and The Mighty.

To learn more about Lana, visit her website.