Fibromyalgia and the Flu
When cold and flu season approaches, fibromyalgia sufferers know there will be challenges ahead. Not only do your chances of catching a bug increase as it gets colder, but weather changes themselves can trigger a fibro flare.
Unfortunately, the problems extend beyond sniffles and a runny nose — you are much more likely than the average person to deal with severe symptoms, complications and long-term effects.
Nobody knows how severe a cold or flu will be, but those with fibromyalgia can count on a particularly uncomfortable experience. The problem is fibro symptoms can feed virus symptoms, and vice versa:
Cold Symptoms Can Be More Severe and Last Longer
In fibromyalgia patients, there’s a significant decrease in the number of molecules that stick to the surface of white blood cells. These “adhesion molecules” play a big role in directing white blood cells to the infection, destroying invasive organisms, and removing toxic substances.
Without an adequate number of these important molecules, colds, flus and other infections can hang around for much longer before the immune system can gain the upper hand.
A Virus Can Trigger a Fibromyalgia Flare
The stress of fighting off an invading organism can worsen fibromyalgia symptoms, or trigger a sudden autoimmune response that results in a flare. In fact, some patients report that their fibromyalgia symptoms only began after they had caught a virus.
Chances of Developing a Secondary Bacterial Infection Are Higher
The longer a sickness sticks around in your system, the more chance it has to increase inflammation and further weaken your natural defenses. In turn, your body is at the mercy of other foreign invaders that can bring more serious complications, like tonsillitis, bronchitis, sinusitis or even pneumonia.
Treating the infection with fibromyalgia can cause extra discomfort, since antibiotics for bacterial infections and even over-the-counter cold medication tend to irritate the stomach. If you’re one of the 80 percent of fibromyalgia sufferers who also live with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’ll certainly want to avoid any harsh irritants, which makes prevention even more important.
Boosting Your Immune Response
While there is little evidence that fibromyalgia directly impairs the immune system, there are a number of ways that it can indirectly affect your ability to fight off viruses. A decrease in certain hormones, poor sleep quality, and high stress levels are some of the most common fibromyalgia discomforts, and they’re all known to lower immunity.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to boost your natural immune response without interfering with your fibro management plan. In fact, many immune-friendly measures can also help to protect and relieve some of your other fibro symptoms.
Restorative sleep is not only important for your energy levels — it’s vital for a strong immune system. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, your body produces fewer cytokines (proteins that promote immune response), as well as fewer antibodies to fight off infection when the need arises.
Unfortunately, sleep problems are at the top of the symptom list for many fibro sufferers, which can leave them both prone to infection and prone to flare-ups.
Start the season off right with an upgrade to your sleep routine: shut off electronics well before bedtime, go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, and practice some relaxation techniques before you hit the hay. Avoid long naps in the daytime — they may help in the short term, but will likely hurt your chances for restorative sleep.
Vitamins are the name of the game, and fresh fruit and vegetables are by far the best sources of immune-boosting nutrients. Incorporating some key vitamins will help calm fibro symptoms and keep your natural defenses up:
- Vitamin D boosts immunity, and studies have shown that can noticeably reduce your fibro pain.
- Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation, which is a major player in fibro symptoms.
- Vitamin C will offer antioxidant support and keep your immune system in good shape.
- SAMe (or S-Adenosyl methionine) is a compound that’s crucial for natural immune function. As you age, your body produces less of it, so consider taking a SAMe supplement to reduce your chronic pain, boost your spirits, and keep your body in disease-fighting mode.
Other supplements can be helpful to keep you nutritionally balanced, but there’s no substitute for a wholesome diet. Begin by getting rid of additives and preservatives, then add more fatty fish and colorful veggies to your daily menu.
- Clean up your act. You pick up and carry around more germs than you may think, so you should be extra vigilant with your hand habits. For instance, wash your hands more often, and be careful not to touch your eyes, mouth or nose — these are gateways for viruses and bacteria. Remember to regularly disinfect the things you use most often: keys, cell phone, doorknobs, light switches, and anything else you touch on a regular basis.
- Get vaccinated. As soon as it’s available, get the flu shot. There are many misconceptions and mistaken concerns when it comes to the annual flu shot, but doctors agree that there’s no doubt about it — getting vaccinated is one of the most important steps for fibromyalgia sufferers. Not only will flu symptoms hit you harder than the average person, but there is absolutely no evidence that the shot can affect your fibro symptoms or cause any worrying side effects.
Use the Right Tools to Get Well
If you do get sick, be prepared to attack quickly and completely. Stock up on cold prevention medication (products like Zicam, ColdFx and Airborne), and be prepared to take some time off to rest and recover.
Fibro pain can spread and spike rather quickly once an illness takes hold, so use heating pads, progressive muscle relaxation and stretching to keep yourself comfortable while your body overcomes the viral invader.