Serotonin syndrome and fibromyalgia are two “friends” that no one wants to have. They have a complicated history together. Very often, one is misdiagnosed as the other; and they can also come together as mutual syndromes in one person.
People with fibromyalgia have a much higher risk of developing serotonin syndrome, which is why it is essential that you discover what it is. Serotonin syndrome is potentially fatal and should be treated immediately
What is Serotonin Syndrome?
Serotonin syndrome is a result of the brain’s serotonin levels being too high or too low. It can cause rapid heartbeat, headache, muscle tremors, nausea, seizures, confusion and diarrhea.
It is considered to be a potentially fatal syndrome and must be managed quickly to avoid permanent damage to the brain and body, or death.
The balance of serotonin in the brain is necessary for mental, emotional and physical health. When it is pushed out of balance, the results can be fatal.
Who is at risk for it?
Anyone who takes any type of medication for depression or pain is considered to be at risk for serotonin syndrome. Serotonin not only regulates mood, but it also plays an important role in the transmission of nerve impulses and pain detection.
Especially for those with chronic pain issues, such are associated with fibromyalgia, too much medication of a certain type can push your serotonin levels too high or too low – both of which can cause the syndrome to develop.
Serotonin syndrome is rare, but does have a higher rate of occurrence with patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Do not assume that your doctor is familiar with it but be proactive with voicing your concerns.
If you think you have it, ask them to test your serotonin levels. The test is standard and covered by most insurance. Make sure to request a copy of the test results as well.
Why are fibromyalgia patients at risk for it?
Fibromyalgia patients face a double risk when it comes to serotonin syndrome. The first risk is that they can very often be misdiagnosed as having it, rather than fibromyalgia. Vice versa, someone with serotonin syndrome can be diagnosed as having fibromyalgia because the symptoms can be very similar.
The other risk issue is that it is not uncommon with those with fibromyalgia to develop serotonin syndrome. Many of the medications associated with the treatment of fibromyalgia are also associated as triggers with serotonin syndrome.
Taken alone, they are not a risk. In many treatment protocols for fibromyalgia there may be a combination of anti-depressants and pain medications that can force your serotonin levels too high or too low and create the potentially fatal syndrome.
One of the things that is hardest to understand about fibromyalgia is how much of the symptoms and problems are originating with a dysregulation of the brain.
The brain and fibromyalgia is something that studies have only recently begun to return evidence that is helping patients and practitioners understand the ways in which the chemistry effects, and impacts, the lives of those with the disease.
While initially many people who suffered from fibromyalgia were told that their symptoms weren’t real and that it was “all in their head,” new evidence is showing that is true to a degree.
Fibromyalgia isn’t a result of hypochondria, but it may very well change the balance of chemicals and nerve impulses in the brain that can increase the symptoms present in the rest of your body.
When you are looking at someone who may be suffering from either serotonin syndrome, or fibromyalgia; o who can even be suffering from both- you and your doctor have to carefully work through a process of elimination in order to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.
How to reduce your risk
The first thing you have to do to reduce your risk of misdiagnosis, or of developing serotonin syndrome is to arrive at a definitive diagnosis with your doctor.
There are now blood tests and brain scans that can be performed in addition to a process of elimination of triggers that can help you arrive at an actual diagnosis. Don’t accept a diagnosis made only as a result of your self-reported symptoms.
The reason you want to avoid this, even if it means waiting several years to have a definitive diagnosis, is that it is common to treat fibromyalgia pain with SNRIs and MAOIs as they are effective pain relievers, but they could push your serotonin levels too high or too high.
What to do if you think you are developing the syndrome
The good news is that if you suspect you have serotonin syndrome there are very definitive tests that can be done to measure your levels. You may have to push to have the testing done, and it is essential that you do this as serotonin syndrome can be fatal.
If you are in a crisis, go to the ER and tell them what you suspect the problem may be – this is also important as the interaction of many of the common pain killers given in emergency rooms can trigger the syndrome as well.
Always stay educated on the lasted treatment options to reduce your risk
To stay safe, stay educated on the latest developments. Don’t assume that you know all there is to know about fibromyalgia. As more people are diagnosed with the disease there is more funding made available for research and new facets of its treatment are being discovered.
A part of your role in enabling patient centered care is to stay informed. Follow sites that offer study information and talk with your doctor about new findings and new possible treatments.
While there is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, new treatments are always being discovered. When it comes to monitoring serotonin syndrome and fibromyalgia, you really need to stay aware of your symptoms, the options and what the effects of certain drugs may be on your brain chemical balance.