Heather Smith
Heather Smith Craig Warhurst

Agonies of fibromyalgia

PAIN is always real, even for people who are not injured.

"Pain is pain. It's never imaginary," according to Gympie fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) sufferer and researcher, Heather Smith.

The increasingly common auto-immune disease, often confused or associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is at last able to be verified by a blood test, she said.

Although still only available in the US, the news is already a great relief to FMS sufferers tired of being told they are imagining their symptoms.

And the symptoms, thought to be associated with damaged nerve endings, are as wide ranging as they are debilitating, including chronic pain, unexplained fatigue, insomnia, panic, dizziness, inexplicable lumps and bumps and even actual injuries to muscles and joints.

"And just because you've got fibro myalgia doesn't mean you might not also be having a heart attack or are suffering an infection or injury as well," says Ms Smith.

Like Chronic Fatigue, the syndrome seems to be linked in many sufferers to periods of stress, apparently causing the body's immune system to go into emergency mode and attack the body itself.

"I was diagnosed with it two-and-a-half years ago," Ms Smith said.

"I was incapacitated, in a lot of pain and have four kids and six grandchildren."

Add to that her experience as a missionary in some high stress parts of Africa and you have a recipe for FMS.

"It started a lot earlier than that, but it took about three years to get a diagnosis.

"I was about half way through studying to be a psychologist, but found I could study when I couldn't sleep and, being at home, I could nap when I needed to.

"The pain can be like phantom limb syndrome, where an amputee still feels pain from parts of a limb that are not there anymore.

"It's a reaction in the pain receptors and it's real pain with no cure.

"And then sometimes it can cause actual injuries to muscles and joints.

"Sufferers have to learn to slow down and give their bodies a chance to recover.

"But that doesn't mean the end of their creative lives. I got my science degree, with Honours, but you have to re-order your life to reduce pressures."

At a glance

Fibromyalgia

  • What it is: auto immune disease
  • Symptoms: wide ranging and including fatigue, flu-like symptoms, sore throat, tender or swollen lymph nodes.
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