Fibromyalgia and Diabetes

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Fibromyalgia and diabetes occur together nearly four times more often than would be expected. Research has found that tight control of blood sugars in diabetics greatly reduces the risk of developing fibromyalgia.

According to a 2003 study in the journal Rheumatology International, found that fibromyalgia occurs in 15% to 18% of patients with diabetes. This suggests a link between the two disorders and hints at a possible mechanism for fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia and Diabetes: The Connection

Fibromyalgia and DiabetesWhat was interesting about the study in Rheumatology International was that the association between fibromyalgia and diabetes was much stronger for type 1 diabetes than type 2, though there was still a much higher than average association with type 2 diabetes. This is association is interesting because type 1 diabetes is thought to result from autoimmune disease, though the trigger is unknown. The autoimmune nature of type 1 diabetes and its strong association with fibromyalgia (nearly 4 times the average rate of the general population) suggests that proponents of an autoimmune cause for fibromyalgia may be on the right path. Of course, more research is required.

Another interesting link between fibromyalgia and diabetes is the control of blood sugar in diabetes is directly related to the chance of having fibromyalgia. The higher a patient’s hemoglobin A1C levels are, a measure of how well blood sugar is being controlled, the more likely that patient is to suffer from fibromyalgia. Additionally, higher blood sugar levels or associated with an increase in the severity of symptoms in patients who do suffer from fibromyalgia. In particular, disturbed sleep, fatigue, headaches, and the number of tender points were all substantially increased in patients with poor blood sugar control.

Fibromyalgia and Diabetes: Diagnosis

Diagnosing fibromyalgia in patients who were already suffering from diabetes can be difficult. The reason for this is the diabetes can mimic any or all of the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, with no test to definitively demonstrate the presence of fibromyalgia, the only mechanism of making a diagnosis is true clinical investigation of symptoms. Patients who suffer from diabetes, particularly women, should be well aware of the fact that fibromyalgia occurs at a rate four times that seemed in the general public impatience with diabetes. As a result, symptoms that are associated with diabetes but that do not resolve with strict blood sugar control should be investigated as they may be the result of fibromyalgia.

One of the potential sources of confusion between symptoms in fibromyalgia and diabetes is that the sensory phenomena (pain, tenderness, and shooting nerve pain) can be experienced in both conditions. However, a 2011 study conducted in Germany and published in the journal BMC Neurology found that the distribution of these symptoms was different. The study looked at the following 7 symptoms:

  • Burning pain
  • Prickling pain
  • Pain to normal stimuli (allodynia)
  • Waxing and waning pain (attacks)
  • Pain to hot objects (thermal)
  • Numbness
  • Pressure point

What they found was that the way the symptoms were grouped was directly related to the disease responsible. Here is what they found for the following combinations of symptoms:

Combination

Disorder

Attacks and Pressure Points

3x more likely to be cause by fibromyalgia

Thermal and Pressure Points

2x more likely to be cause by fibromyalgia

Prickling and Numbness

3x more likely to be cause by diabetes

Attacks and Numbness

2X more likely to be cause by diabetes

Burning, Pressure, and Attacks

Slight difference favoring Fibromyalgia

The results suggest that while individual symptoms may be attributable to either disease, taking an inventory of all symptoms may help to determine the exact cause based on how the symptoms are grouped together in terms of severity and timing. Attacks that occur at the same time that pressure points are most sensitivity are three times more likely to be the result of fibromyalgia than are attacks that occur at the same time as numbness.

Fibromyalgia and Diabetes: Treatment


Fibromyalgia and diabetes are treated quite differently, but treating one can improve symptoms of the other. This is particular true of diabetes, where correcting blood sugars can have tremendous impact on the symptoms of fibromyalgia. In particular, managing diabetes appropriately can reduce pain, sleep disturbance, and fatigue in fibromyalgia.

As with most conditions, exercise is an excellent way to reduce the symptoms and effects of both diseases, Exercises reduces the need for insulin and the extremes of blood sugar levels in diabetes. It also wards of the heart disease and stroke that are more prevalent in this population. For fibromyalgia, exercise reduces pain, enhances sleep, and improves mood. Aerobic exercise has so many benefits in so many different diseases that to not engage in it is to miss a large and important component of any treatment regimen. Experts recommend 15 to 20 minutes of light aerobic exercise 3 times per week.

Fibromyalgia and diabetes seem to be linked more than other diseases. Fibromyalgia occurs up to four times more often in individuals with diabetes than it does in the general population. While researchers are working to uncover the link between these diseases, patients should keep in mind that treating fibromyalgia and diabetes together is the key to maximum recovery in both conditions.

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