When we talk about fibromyalgia, we usually focus on the physical symptoms. And that makes sense, the physical symptoms are so severe that they can completely change your life. Not to mention that any time we talk about medical conditions, we like to focus on the obvious things. What symptoms does it cause? Is there some way to treat them? What do I need to know to fix this?
Of course, when it comes to fibromyalgia, that approach ignores one of the hardest parts of living with the condition: the mental state it puts you in. Fibromyalgia isn’t just physically devastating, it can take a huge emotional toll on the people who suffer from it as well.
In fact, the toll is so heavy that people with fibromyalgia often show symptoms of something called panic disorder. Panic disorder is a mental health condition that leads to chronic anxiety and severe panic attacks. And if you’re not aware of it, those symptoms can be hard to recognize. So, what is panic disorder? How is it related to fibromyalgia? And what can you do to help manage it?
Do you ever get a sudden, intense rush of fear? Have you ever experienced a sudden sweating in your hands, numbness radiating across your chest, and a feeling like something really bad is about to happen? If so, you may have experienced a panic attack.
Panic attacks are basically what the name suggests. They’re intense episodes of panic that come on suddenly and result in uncontrollable anxiety. They also lead to physical symptoms like sweaty palms, a pounding heart rate, and light-headedness. A lot of people suffer from one every now and then, but if you’re experiencing them frequently, then the odds are good that you have panic disorder, which causes recurrent and frequent panic attacks.
We don’t know what causes panic disorder, but there are a few things that definitely seem to make it worse like smoking, drug use, and chronic stress. And some researchers have suggested that the cause could be our “flight or fight response.” Basically, when you’re in danger, your body pumps out adrenaline and prepares to either fight or run. But when you have a panic attack, your body triggers this response for no real reason and you struggle with the effects.
One of the worst things about panic attacks is that a lot of anxiety actually comes from the attacks themselves. A panic attack is an intensely frightening experience. And the physical symptoms can be similar to a heart attack or other life-threatening condition. So, you may even feel like you’re about to die in the middle of an attack.
So, it’s easy to see how these attacks form a kind of feedback loop. You have an attack because you have anxiety, then you worry that you’re going to experience another attack, which increases that anxiety and makes you more likely to have another one.
And when you have fibromyalgia, a condition that naturally leads to anxiety and stress, it can be even worse.
Panic Disorder And Fibromyalgia
Obviously, fibromyalgia leads to a lot of stress. There are medical bills that you have to worry about and obligations that you have to find some way to meet. And through it all, you’re struggling with constant, horrible pain. So it makes sense that people with fibromyalgia often have mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
But these issues also make it more likely that you’ll suffer from panic attacks. The chronic stress of the condition leaves you constantly on edge mentally, and for some people, all it takes is a small trigger to set off an attack.
Stress is something everyone deals with, but chronic stress can actually be very dangerous. It can lead to a wide range of health problems. And it can even reduce your life expectancy. Not to mention that adding panic disorder to fibromyalgia can make the stress even worse.
Luckily, there are things you can do to treat the condition.
Managing The Condition
There are a few antidepressant medications that doctors use to treat panic disorder. These drugs work by helping to balance the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and plays an important role in regulating our moods. When your serotonin levels are low, you’re more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
In addition, doctors can prescribe something called beta blockers. These drugs stop adrenaline from reaching the receptors in your brain and are good for stopping a panic attack quickly if you feel like you have one coming on.
But, medication is really only half of the treatment for panic disorder. It’s important to combine it with visits to a therapist. A good therapist can help you find ways to cope with your anxiety and work through the issues in your life that are stressing you out.