Book Review: Living Well with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia:


Fibromyalgia is frequently diagnosed but poorly understood. Chronic fatigue syndrome by its very name is the source of conflicting opinion and no real consensus on treatment. What is a person to do when they discover they have one or both of these ailments? Resign oneself to an ever-deteriorating lifetime of poor health? Not necessarily. There are many resources, both medical and non-medical, available, and Mary Shomon covers the gamut in her book.

Part of the dilemma in deciding how to treat fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue syndrome is that because the experts cannot agree on the true cause of these ailments, they also have wildly differing views on how best to manage them. When one already has perhaps significant cognitive dysfunction as a result of illness, sorting
through all the theories and regimens can be a bewildering experience. Technical jargon complicates the process, often resulting in Information overload.

The purpose of Shomon’s book is to explain the ailments in easy to understand terms, present the predominant theories as to cause, and list the most popular and/or successful management techniques. This is accomplished without talking down to the reader. What’s more, Ms. Shomon has herself experienced the long rocky road of chronic illness, so she knows the issues of greatest importance.

The book begins by defining fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as alternate terms including myalgic encephalomyelitis. Then it goes into who is most likely to develop these ailments, both the genetic and environmental possibilities, of which there are many. It also details the considerable range of bodily systems affected. There is a whole chapter dedicated to a checklist of risk factors and symptoms. The next segment of the book covers diagnosis: what the doctor is likely to ask you, what conditions need to be ruled out, what tests might be run.

Chronic fatigue and/or fibromyalgia are often linked to infections, but there is little agreement over whether infections cause these ailments or whether the ailments themselves make infections more likely. Ms. Shomon goes over both schools of thought, as well as the wide variety of infections associated with chronic fatigue syndrome in particular. She also discusses both conventional and natural remedies for these infections. Next, Shomon does a brief overview of the immune system, how it can malfunction and what types of malfunctions occur, what goes on in the body and what treatments have been used.
The role of hormones, the HPA (Hypothalmic-Pituitary-Adrenal) Axis, and the endocrine system in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue is a complex but important one, and there is a chapter dedicated to their connection. After a segment on how the HPA Axis works, there is a list of conditions that result when the axis is disrupted as well as
how these conditions can be treated. Next, the book moves on to nervous system dysfunction. The central and autonomic nervous systems are briefly detailed as well as their connection to the function of the heart, the brain, and pain. There is also in this chapter a discussion of the most popular pain treatments.

People with chronic fatigue and/or fibromyalgia often experience sensitivity to chemicals, foods and other potential allergens. Reactions to these irritants can range from mild to debilitating. Shomon lists the most common culprits and what can be done for relief. Following this is a brief chapter on nutritional imbalances and the controversial treatment of fibromyalgia known as the “guai” protocol (guai being an abbreviation for the cough medicine guaifenesin).

Next, treatments for musculoskelatal problems are covered in some detail. This includes various kinds of bodywork. The role of exercise in managing fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue is a source of contention, and Shomon presents both sides of the issue.

Sleep dysfunction afflicts the majority of people with fibromyalgia/ chronic fatigue. Chapter 13 goes over the most common sleep problems and what to do about them. Also addressed here is stress management and whether or not cognitive therapy is beneficial.
One essential factor in the road to improving the health of people with chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia is finding the most appropriate medical practitioner or team of practitioners. Shomon lists a variety of specialties that may be needed for treatment, as well as how to go about finding a doctor. Equally important are the segments on problem
solving, communicating with your practitioners, and when you might need to drop your current doctor.

Chapter 15 focuses on bringing all the elements together to form your own treatment plan. This can range from simple changes to medication, to major lifestyle overhauls. Because there is so much variation from patient to patient, no two treatment plans will be the same.

The last chapter is all about finding and having hope. Shomon discusses the potential for recovery or at least improvement. She also goes into how others have found acceptance of their illness and other ways to have meaning in their lives.

As with the other books by Mary Shomon, there is an extensive and very useful resource section encompassing print, websites, support groups, associations and organizations. Following that is a list of individual fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue experts. I found it quite worthwhile perusing these resources.

This book is perfect for the newly diagnosed and/or people suffering from impaired concentration/comprehension. It can be read in short intervals, such as while sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms. And it contains enough reference material that you’ll want to go back from time to time to check anything you’ve forgotten or want to explore
Title: Living Well with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You . . . That You Need to Know
Author: Mary J. Shomon
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
IBSN: 0-06-052125-2
Submitted by: Karen Brauer,, © 2007

  • Thanks for a good, informative review. Once again I’m running into things I thought were disconnected other conditions that turn out to be fibromyalgia symptoms. All my food allergies — I just thought I had a lot of food allergies and sensitivities, not that this is a typical fibro problem. Figures. I should start questioning anything normal that I have trouble with or don’t like and check against a book like this to see if it’s part of the package.