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Fibromyalgia is a complex and misunderstood illness. At first glance, we can talk about chronic diffuse muscle pain that can become disabling. However, several other symptoms can occur: musculoskeletal pain, sleep disorders, chronic fatigue, morning stiffness, irritable bowel, vision disorders, etc.


The World Health Organization recognized fibromyalgia as a distinct disease in 1992. It carries the code M79.0 and is classified as non-articular rheumatism. In the 21st century, this entity is not yet considered realistic (not for everyone) and is called diffuse idiopathic myalgia syndrome. 

An illness that does not discriminate, it affects all age groups (including children) regardless of race and socio-economic status. However, it mainly affects women between the ages of 35 and 50 who are approaching menopause.

In Canada, 900,000 people, including 140,000 Quebecers, are affected by fibromyalgia. Globally, the population afflicted by fibromyalgia is estimated to be between 2 and 10%, which is 2 to 5 times more prevalent than rheumatoid arthritis. It is estimated that 85% of those affected are women.

Fille du lac

Muscle pain, sleep disorders, chronic fatigue, and brain fog are among the most common symptoms. However, these are not the only types of pain that define fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

We will try to demystify these illnesses in the following sections.


Chronic fatigue syndrome

Over the years, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has been referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis, immune dysfunction, chronic Epstein-Barr virus disease, Lake Tahoe syndrome, post-viral fatigue, hospital disease, yuppie flu or yuppie disease, neurasthenia, atypical poliomyelitis. Identified since 1985, the World Health Organization has an assigned number G93.3 under the nervous system diseases. The word syndrome refers to a set of symptoms and/or signs with no specific cause.


Chronic fatigue syndrome is a chronic and potentially disabling condition that mainly affects neurological, endocrine and immune systems. It is characterized not only by chronic fatigue, but also by other symptoms such as muscle and joint pain.


In Canada, CFS affects 125,000 people, including 30,000 Quebecers. Four people out of 1,000 would be afflicted in America. This illness also affects all ethnic groups, all socio-economic groups and all age groups. However, there is a higher incidence among women, 2 to 4 times higher than men. Despite the non-discriminatory nature of CFS, there is a prevalence among white women between the ages of 25 and 40.


The following information is purely informative and should not in any case replace the treatment protocol of your treating physician.

Although fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are two distinct illnesses, their treatments are very similar. In fact, there is no medication or treatment available that are curative. The doctor attempts to relieve or diminish the symptoms, so that the patient is able to perform activities of daily living.

The symptoms and their intensity vary from one individual to another, so the doctor will establish an individualized treatment protocol. Generally, the doctor will propose a treatment that combines a pharmacological approach with a non-pharmacological approach (exercises, stress reduction, better life hygiene, therapy, etc.). The patient must be involved in the development of his or her own program, such as:


  • Listing the symptoms (onset, frequency, fluctuation, duration, intensity)

  • Listing of medications (prescription or over-the-counter) taken regularly and occasionally as well as their efficiency.

Pharmacological approach

Depending on the patient’s symptoms, the doctor will prescribe medications that will reduce discomfort (analgesics, antidepressants, etc.). Not being health professionals, we cannot make reference to any medication, however, we suggest certain actions to optimize the treatment prescribed by the doctor:


  • Be aware of side effects

  • Follow the advice of both the doctor and pharmacist

  • Understand the explanations, making sure they are clear

  • Do not stop the medication without the physician’s authorization

  • Get involved with the treatment

  • Request regular follow-up


Non-pharmacological approach


As there is no treatment that cures fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, the goal is to relieve the symptoms.

There are certain treatments which can be used to relieve a number of symptoms that an individual may incur. It is important to be careful about “miracle solutions”. Many charlatans may take advantage of people’s vulnerability to offer them miracle cures, make sure of the relevance of each treatment. In addition, what may work for one individual may not work for another. Be vigilant.

Most treatments proposed are intended to improve the general living conditions of the person affected, and to give them the necessary resources to cope with the illness.

The goals


  • Establish a balanced lifestyle

  • Acquire good sleep habits

  • Reduce stress factors

  • Maintain good mental health

  • Do moderate-intensity exercises

Vivre au quotidien

Day to day

The person suffering with these illnesses lives with misunderstanding, prejudices and lack of compassion from those in their surroundings as well as health professionals. Depression or severe sadness may afflict those with these illnesses. These psychological disorders may result from of a lack of social recognition and from the stress generated by the difficulties of the symptoms. The person must continually strive for services so that their illnesses will be recognized.


Several consequences arise from the health status of those affected:

  • Fear of losing their job

  • Lower income

  • Concern for the future

  • Lower quality of life

  • Inability to do usual activities

  • Tendency to isolate

  • Feelings of sadness, anxiety and depression


Once the diagnosis is posed, it is now time to face the reality; there is no cure and/or no clear explanation to the cause of the illnesses. It is important to respect your limitations, have a healthy lifestyle, and seek treatments to help alleviate some of the symptoms.

Therefore, it is possible to learn to live and cope with the illnesses. Pacing yourself and respecting your limits is of utmost importance.


In addition to the treatment program that the doctor will prescribe, here are some tips to help you live better with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome:


  • Welcome good days and bad days

  • Adapt your lifestyle by combining rest and activity periods

  • Enjoy the good times

  • Seek help and delegate when necessary

  • Reduce sources of stress

  • Keep active; walk, stretch, water therapy, yoga

  • Breathing and relaxation exercises

  • Healthy eating habits

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule

  • Ensure psychological support

  • Believe in your dreams, adapt them to your new reality

  • Discuss with other affected individuals

  • Join a support group

  • Encourage self-confidence

  • Reinforce your self-esteem

  • Remain in a positive attitude

  • Occupy your mind with other activities; keep your mind busy

  • Be self-indulgent, accept who you are, the new you.


And above all, stay positive, relapses are inevitable, better times will come.


Individuals with these illnesses must ensure that they have psychological support whether it is through:


  • An entourage who will give support with a positive attitude and of understanding pain

  • Psychological support from a therapist, a support group or an association.

With a positive attitude and comprehension from others, a person may find a better quality of life.
Optimism and willpower are driving forces to help overcome these illnesses. Each step, no matter how small it is, IS a step towards a better life.

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