When you have an illness like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome that can cause dozens of symptoms, many of which wax and wane over time, it's hard to know which ones to tackle first. And when you consider the need to find treatments for each individual symptoms, it can be daunting.
Something that can really help, in my experience, is identifying symptom clusters. Which of your symptoms come on around the same time? Which ones seem to lead to others?
For example, does pain seem to lead to brain fog? Or does brain fog typically come on 2-3 days before a flare? These kinds of patterns offer clues about treatments.
Here's a real-life example: Several years ago, I developed a tremor in my hands. In researching tremors, I discovered that they can be tied to low dopamine levels. I looked at other symptoms of low dopamine and realized I'd been having a cluster of them -- impaired balance, rigid and achy muscles, and worse-than-usual brain fog.
I looked into natural ways to boost dopamine and found out about rhodiola rosea and theanine. I started taking rhodiola and it helped some. Theanine comes from tea, so I increased my tea intake to what's considered a therapeutic level -- at least 3 servings a day. The tremor went away, and the other dopamine-related symptoms improved as well. I eventually switched to theanine supplements, to ensure consistent levels. When the tremor comes back, I take more. It's never failed to work.
I've used the symptom-cluster approach a great deal in my recovery. To identify your clusters, a symptom journal can really help. It's also a good idea to talk to the people around you -- what patterns have they noticed that you may have overlooked? It can take a few months to identify your clusters, especially if you have flares and remissions.
Once you've identified clusters, you can look for underlying causes of that set of symptoms. Is it your immune system? Is it low growth hormone? Could it be a food allergy or chemical sensitivity? It's not an easy process, but it's definitely worth it. Once you have a likely cause, you can look into treatments. Make sure to discuss all of this with your doctor, who may be able to narrow down possible causes a lot faster than you can on your own and then can help guide treatments.
One thing you DON'T want to do is take your symptom log to your doctor -- he or she won't have the time to look over and analyze such a huge amount of information. That's a tool for you to use to get started on the right path.
Most of my significant improvements have come from treatments aimed at neurotransmitter balance. You can learn about those symptom clusters and treatments for them here:
You can get valuable clues about clusters from treatments that do and don't work for you. If antidepressants don't help but supplements that help with immune function do, you know you need to focus on immunity instead of neurology. See Supplements for Specific Symptoms to help with this process, and also look back at which treatments have failed for you.
Have you been able to identify any symptom clusters? Has it helped you find treatments that work for you? Leave your comments below!
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