For years, people afflicted by chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM) have had trouble convincing their doctors that their debilitating symptoms are not an illusion. The good news is, “In spite of whatever doctors may have said to you in the past, the disease is real and you are not crazy,” Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum tells Metro.
Teitelbaum himself suffered from fibromyalgia when he was in medical school and had to drop out for a year to recover. The disease left him homeless and sleeping on park benches. Due to this defining period, Teitelbaum has dedicated his professional life to leading scientific research, finding treatments and helping others with these illnesses.
“I have been there and I know what people are going through,” Teitelbaum says. His new book, The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution, is easy-reading guidance for everybody with day-to-day fatigue, not just for fibromyalgia.
The trouble with CFS and FM — diseases that have afflicted everyone from Florence Nightingale to JFK — starts with differentiating between the two. According to Teitelbaum, they are simply two names for the same process.
“If you go to see an infectious disease doctor, you will have chronic fatigue syndrome,” Teitelbaum says with a laugh. “If you go out of their offices next door to see a rheumatologist, you will have fibromyalgia.”
According to Teitelbaum, chronic fatigue syndrome encompasses more than 100 syndromes. Some key symptoms that identify the illness are being exhausted but unable to sleep, widespread pain and brain fog (difficulty using vocabulary and short-term memory problems). If you’re experiencing these problems, you might be one of more than 12 million Americans, and more than 100 million people worldwide, with a CFS-related condition.
People with CFS can also have tingling in their body, low libido and bowel disorders. They can have an average 32 and a half pounds of weight gain because of the drop of metabolism. Symptoms can go on and on.
What is fibromyalgia?
Chronic fatigue’s sister illness, fibromyalgia, is marked by muscle pain — all over the body or in certain areas — which is caused by tightening of the muscles.
“Muscles act like springs and they are naturally in a shortened position,” Teitelbaum says. “It takes energy to stretch the muscle. So if you don’t have enough energy, your muscles got locked in the shortened position, and then they hurt. When that happens throughout the entire body, that is fibromyalgia.”
Get well soon
So what can we do to restore optimal energy? Take care of ourselves. Teitelbaum uses the SHINE acronym: sleep, hormones, immunity, nutrition and exercise. Simply put, you should get adequate sleep, get tested for hormone deficiencies, get treatment for infections, maintain a healthy diet and exercise. Following these steps can improve patients’ health by 75 per cent after three months, one study found.
Teitelbaum says exercise is the hardest protocol for patients to follow, because people with CFS/FM don’t have enough energy. But patients can start with a walking program, aiming for half an hour a day (or 2,000 to 4,000 steps if using a pedometer). Then people can increase by 50 steps a day until they reach a level that they are comfortable with.