The most common fibromyalgia myth is that it’s "all in your head". Well, literally speaking, this is partly true. In my experience over 90 percent of fibromyalgia causes involve the brain—and studies conducted in recent years show abnormalities in the brainstems of fibromyalgia patients.
The brainstem is located at the base of the brain and is connected to the spinal cord. In general, the brainstem controls many autonomic functions like heart rate, respiration and digestion. Autonomic functions occur independent from conscious thought or control—they are automatic. When the body experiences stress, such as during exercise, the midbrain—located at the top of the brainstem—responds by increasing respiration and heart rate, and decreasing digestion.
Fibromyalgia Begins in the Brain
Normally, the stress response from the midbrain is regulated by the pons and medulla oblongata, which are located in the lower part of the brainstem. They tone down the midbrain’s ‘output’ when a stress response is not appropriate.
The pons and medulla are like parents who act to keep an unruly child under control. Problems arise, however, when these two parts of the brain can no longer keep the midbrain in check. This is what happens in the brains of fibromyalgia patients. The result is a functionally overactive midbrain that causes a fairly predictable stress response in the body.
Fibromyalgia Is Real
Understanding the origins of fibromyalgia in the brain helps to explain why many fibromyalgia patients complain of classic stress symptoms including:
-temporary rapid heart rate or arrhythmia
-digestive disturbances like acid reflux, bloating, constipation or diarrhea
-cold hands or feet
-aversion to bright light
-diffuse, achy pain
-disruption of normal sleep/wake cycle
-Brain fog: difficultly understanding, remembering or speaking clearly