MARQUETTE - When Shannon Carter gave birth to her second child about 10 years ago, she struggled through what she calls "a very difficult" labor.
It was, in fact, her second difficult labor, and while she figured it would take time for her body to recuperate, she never expected it to last more than a few months.
"I never quite fully recovered and it took me about three years to figure out, 'OK. something is not right here,'" said Carter, who works full time in The Mining Journal's circulation department.
This chart shows the locations of trigger points in the human body that may be used to diagnose fibromyalgia. (Courtesy photo)
Dealing with chronic pain and fatigue, Carter began seeking medical opinions. She was subjected to a battery of tests for conditions ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to lupus and multiple sclerosis.
Oftentimes, when tests for those conditions come back negative, a doctor will begin looking at a condition called fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by unexplained musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.
Doctors still have little understanding as to what, exactly, causes fibromyalgia, but they were finally able to give Carter a definitive diagnosis.
"Actually, when I got a diagnosis, my doctor told me what it was and I was like, 'huh?'" she said. "I had never heard of it."
Though doctors haven't been able to pin down a cause for the disorder, they have determined that it often presents following physical trauma, including childbirth or surgery, or serious psychological stress. It is much more prevalent in women than men.
Carter has struggled during the past few years to deal with the pain - she says the feeling is difficult to describe, but likens it to constantly scratching a terrible sunburn. Her pain is almost always present, on some level, but it will flare up every few weeks and sometimes lasts for up to five days.
In part, she uses pharmacological means to help manage the condition and, in addition to an array of other treatments, takes pregabalin, an anticonvulsant drug used to treat neuropathic pain and generalized anxiety disorder.
Additionally, she sees a chiropractor regularly.
Dr. Brandon Turino, a wellness chiropractor at Marquette's Integrated Wellness, said he often sees patients who are dealing with fibromyalgia or similar disorders.
He said he receives visits from both patients who have received affirmative diagnoses and those who are simply seeking assistance for an array of symptoms that may be related to fibromyalgia. His job, he said, is not to diagnose people.
"It is one prong of attack. Chiropractic care doesn't specifically say that it treats anything," he said. "It is simply removing interference from the central nervous system to allow the body to heal and regulate itself efficiently."
Additionally, Turino often recommends dietary changes to patients dealing with what he calls "central sensitization" issues.
"It's a case-by-case basis," he said. "We look a lot to nutrition. We look a lot to movement and exercise and stress patterns, as well."
He places a strong emphasis on increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are typically found in fish. That recommendation is made for a couple of reasons, according to Turino. First, a large portion of central nervous system tissue is made from omega-3s. And secondly, doctors often look at the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the body. Those with a higher ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s routinely have fewer incidences of chronic diseases of all types.
For her part, Carter is pleased that doctors such as Turino are beginning to focus a bit more on fibromyalgia, which is still a bit of a wild card in the medical community. With no test to affirm the suspicions of someone who may be suffering from the invisible disorder, it is easy to feel alone.
She said she takes comfort in a number of Internet groups and forums catering to fibromyalgia sufferers. To a degree, that helps her to deal with the present and to forget pieces of the past, when, according to her, one doctor told her that the fibromyalgia was all in her head.
"I love that it's more out there," she said. "Maybe people will believe me. That's the hardest part. Nobody believed me. You can't see it."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.