10 Causes of Fibromyalgia Flares – Causes – Chronic Pain

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Chronic Pain
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10 Causes of Fibromyalgia Flares

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide March 21, 2012

A fibromyalgia flare (or flare-up) is a temporary increase in the number and/or intensity of symptoms.  Worsening pain and fatigue are generally the first two symptoms noticed in a fibro-flare.  But other symptoms like poor sleep, increased cognitive dysfunction and digestive disturbances are often experienced as well.  

Some flares only last for a day or two but others may continue for several weeks or even months.  It’s those long flares that are the hardest to deal with because it feels like they will never end.  When you start to feel discouraged in the midst of a long flare, it’s important to remind yourself that flares are temporary.  They will eventually begin to subside. 

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The best way to prevent FM flares is to identify what causes them and when possible, try to avoid the circumstances that trigger them.  Keep in mind that a flare may not occur for up to 48 hours after the event that triggered it. 
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Causes of Fibromyalgia Flares

In my experience, 10 of the most common causes for fibromyalgia flares are:

1.  Weather changes

Possibly the most common cause of short-term fibro-flares can be attributed to changes in the weather.  Whenever the barometric pressure changes and a new front passes through, many people with FM experience an increase in their symptoms – particularly in their pain level.  Fortunately, these flares usually only last for a day or two.

2.  Over-exertion

Any time we push ourselves too far physically, we’re in danger of triggering a flare.  On those rare days when we feel pretty good, it’s so hard not to try to catch up with all of the chores and activities we’ve been unable to do for the past month or two.  But overdoing, even when you feel good, will usually come back and bite you in the form of a fibro-flare.  It’s better to increase your activity level gradually so that hopefully you’ll have more good days with fewer setbacks.

3.  Stress

Stress may be the granddaddy of fibro-flare triggers.  We’re always hearing how prolonged stress negatively affects our health and can lead to heart attacks and strokes.  What we don’t always realize is that stress can have a significant impact on fibromyalgia symptoms as well. 

Stress can be a particularly insidious culprit when it comes to fibro-flare triggers because it often sneaks up on us.  Our responsibilities gradually increase, the economy gets worse, our child gets sick – without consciously thinking about it our stress levels have gone through the roof.  Then one day we find ourselves in the midst of a major flare and wonder what caused it.  It’s been my experience that stress-related flares often last the longest because they can be the most difficult to identify and then find ways by which we can manage the stress. 

4.  Illness or injury

Just as an illness or injury often triggers the onset of fibromyalgia, another illness or injury can trigger a flare of FM symptoms.  Even something as simple as the common cold can result in a fibro-flare. 

5.  Hormonal changes

A number of women report experiencing FM flares related to their menstrual cycles and menopause.  Whether or not hormone replacement therapy is appropriate or even would be helpful in these cases is something that each individual would have to discuss with her doctor.

6.  Temperature changes

Many people with FM find that they are extremely sensitive to cold or heat or both.  Being exposed to those uncomfortable temperatures, even for relatively short periods of time, can sometimes trigger a flare. 

7.  Lack of sleep or changes in sleep routine

Getting quality, restful, restorative sleep is an ongoing challenge for people with fibromyalgia.  Whenever that sleep is disrupted or there are changes to an individual’s normal sleep patterns – particularly over a period of time – a fibro-flare may not be far behind.  It’s important to find a sleep routine that works for you and stick to it as closely as you can.

8.  Treatment changes

While changes to your medications or other treatment protocols are intended to bring about an improvement in your symptoms, sometimes those changes can result in a flare of your symptoms.  It can be tricky to determine whether the flare was actually caused by the change itself or was coincidental.  It may take a period of trial and error, working with your doctor, to figure out whether the treatment change is to blame or if some other factor triggered the flare. 

9.  Traveling

Traveling is seldom easy for someone with fibromyalgia and even the best trip may be followed by a fibro-flare.  One reason this happens I suspect is because travel so often involves one or more other common flare triggers such as weather changes, temperature changes, stress and the disruption of sleep routines.  Try to plan plenty of rest time during your trip as well as allowing a day before you leave and at least a day or two after you return to rest.  While this may not completely prevent a flare, it may help minimize its severity.

10. Individual sensitivities

Often people with fibromyalgia have a number of sensitivities such as allergies or sensitivity to light, noise and/or smells.  Exposure to the things they are sensitive to – like bright lights or strong perfumes – may trigger a fibro-flare. 

Preventing Fibromyalgia Flares

Although it’s not possible to prevent all fibro-flares, identifying what causes most of your flares and taking steps to try to prevent those triggers can help reduce the number and intensity of flares significantly. 

Journaling or keeping a log is an excellent way of identifying possible triggers because you can go back and compare what you did prior to a current flare with other previous flares.  Just take a few minutes each day to jot down your activities for the day, any new medications or other therapies started, changes to your diet, weather or temperature changes, how and when you slept – anything that could help you pinpoint changes or themes that could account for your flares. 

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5 responses »

    • I’m so glad to near about your reblog of this post…I wish this information had been more readily available when I was diagnosed several years ago! At this point I’m completely disabled…takes having someone with me for drs visits…any important meetings etc., because I lose all train of thought, and my physical reaction to actually going out anywhere other than to church causes me a great deal of stress.

      With the stress comes the pain and between the two I break out with my Trick or Treater Shingles…some days it just all seems to much to handle if you know what I mean…BUT again, thank you for passing on this article!

      • Sorry for the incredibly late response! I have (ironically) been feeling better the past few weeks so my blog wasn’t coming to mind. I had a flareup and I turned to the blog this week. To be honest I have been there. My best advise is be aggressive. When I was 14 – 17 I didn’t go to high school. It was a vicious circle but my family was incredibly supportive, I got into see the best specialist (after a long wait) and I found the ‘right balance’ of drugs and lifestyle. My doctor said sometimes it takes a while to find the right balance of drugs, and I was like thats a load of crap, nothing works! However, one lifestyle suggestion is (as hard as this is to do) push yourself mentally to get out. Fibro is made worse when people don’t move their bodies. Its why the mornings are often the worse. The problem is you feel you don’t have the ability to physically get up, yet you know logically have to get up to feel better. Start with small goals. Maybe church is your only weekly outing. Make sure you do that each week no matter how miserable you feel because I bet Sunday will end up being your “best” days physical if you do it. This may not be my place to say this; I am a random blogger to say who does not know you at all, but you may want to see a psychiatrist. For me Ritilian has made one of the biggest differences in my life overall. Fibro is a balancing act, you need a team behind you advocating or else you end up alone! I thought the information was fantastic. It is unfortunate how little Fibro is understood and how many stereotypes exist!

      • Thank you so much for this reply! I totally get it, and hope one day to be where you are! Thank you again and yes, I’m taking your advice and adding a psych to my GP & pain mgmt team…look forward to hearing more from you in the future…

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