Living with Fibromyalgia and Sleep Apnea

Living with Fibromyalgia and Sleep Apnea

Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a condition that causes widespread pain, i.e. pain throughout the entire body, fatigue, emotional and mental distress, and sleep issues. In other words, fibromyalgia and sleep disorders go together. Indeed, any sleep disorder can exacerbate the symptoms of FMS, and is therefore of utmost importance to treat sleep disorders to be able to cope with the condition.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders people suffer from. It causes frequent breathing interruptions during sleep which results in poor quality sleep and chronic sleep deprivation.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type developed as a result of blocked airways due to excess tissue or a large tongue or tonsils. So, we may conclude that obesity is one of the risk factors for OSA.

During an episode of OSA, the person stops breathing, the levels of oxygen reduce, the heart beats faster, stress hormones start to release, and the body fights to start breathing again. And, although some patients aren’t aware of the experience, for those who wake up gasping for air the experience is terrifying.

Unfortunately, OSA increases the risk of suffering from other serious health conditions, some of which are lethal, including heart failure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, sudden death, heartburn, reflux, erectile dysfunction, and depression. Luckily, if obstructive sleep apnea is treated on time, the risk of these conditions reduces.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor should refer you to a sleep study, also known as a polysomnogram, in a special sleep lab. During the study, you’ll be hooked up to electrodes and observed by sleep technicians throughout the entire night.

In general, doctors don’t require people with FMS to undergo a sleep study, but only those who report symptoms of a sleep disorder. However, new research shows that this would help identify and treat sleep issues that worsen fibromyalgia symptoms.

How are Fibromyalgia and OSA Connected?

Even though experts haven’t been able to determine the exact link between fibromyalgia and obstructive sleep apnea, there’s no doubt that these two have similar symptoms which sometimes makes it hard to distinguish between them and get the correct diagnoses. Their shared symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Restless sleep
  • Excessive daytime fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Concentration issues
  • Depression

How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

Special sleep equipment is considered to be the gold standard treatment for sleep apnea. It involves a mask that goes over the mouth and nose and blows air to keep airways open. But, unfortunately for those with FMS, and especially for those who experience head, face, or jaw pain, wearing a mask during sleep is quite challenging and worsens the pain.

For that reason, your sleep specialist may suggest other treatment options which include:

  • Weight loss
  • Mouthpiece
  • Surgery

Still, you have to understand that weight loss could only help in relieving mild sleep apnea symptoms and that wearing a mouthpiece could be effective if the jaw position causes the obstruction. When it comes to surgery, bear in mind that not only it carries certain risks, as is the case with all surgeries, but FMS can also slow down your recovery and increase pain.

The bottom line, living with both OSA and FMS can be challenging, frustrating, and painful. Still, with the right treatment and recommendations from your doctor, you could alleviate symptoms and reduce the impact it is having on your life.