Fibromyalgia syndrome is an invisible illness which can be a frightening, frustrating and isolating condition.

Left to right:  seated Rachel Summers, standing Karen Hall,  support volunteers; standing Sarah Ward, Reiki Practitioner and group facilitator; standing Jok Saunders, Clinic founder, Nutritionist, NLP & Mindfulness Coach;
Simeon Gray, Chiropractor (NIP); seated Sara Cheeseman,  Chair Yoga InstructorLeft to right: seated Rachel Summers, standing Karen Hall, support volunteers; standing Sarah Ward, Reiki Practitioner and group facilitator; standing Jok Saunders, Clinic founder, Nutritionist, NLP & Mindfulness Coach; Simeon Gray, Chiropractor (NIP); seated Sara Cheeseman, Chair Yoga Instructor

There is no known defining cause and it can affect anyone. The main symptom is widespread, chronic pain throughout the body, even though there has been no injury or other physical cause. Other fibromyalgia symptoms include heightened sensitivity to pain; chronic fatigue, insomnia and non-restorative sleep; stiff joints and muscle spasms; digestive problems; headaches or migraines; visual and balance problems with dizzy spells; food intolerances and multiple chemical sensitivities; digestive problems and IBS. Sufferers also commonly experience difficulties with memory and concentration known as 'fibro fog'; anxiety and depression; and heightened sensitivity to temperature, noise, bright lights and strong smells.

Some of the questions people ask are: what does fibromyalgia 'look' like? How is fibromyalgia diagnosed? How is fibromyalgia treated, what are the treatment options? How can I help fibromyalgia naturally?

The widespread pain and other fibromyalgia symptoms can be extremely debilitating. But many sufferers find that with sympathetic, understanding support, they can identify ways to improve their quality of life and develop a programme of self-care. There is no single treatment that works for everyone, but there are several measures, including complementary therapies as a fibromyalgia treatment option to reduce severity of symptoms and restore quality of life.

Jok Saunders, founder of The Fibro Clinic South West in Barnstaple, is on a mission to spread the word about holistic treatment for fibromyalgia, and help people manage their condition. As a sufferer herself, she has first-hand experience of fibromyalgia symptoms and the difficulties of diagnosing and treating them with conventional medicine. Jok's approach takes into account research suggesting that many of the fibromyalgia symptoms, such as heightened sensitivity and sensory overload, are triggered by stress. Numerous studies reveal that continuous stress in anyone's life often leads to inflammatory and other chronic health conditions. Fibromyalgia produces a heightened sensitivity to stress and the body's stress response, fight or flight, if not managed rarely switches off, resulting in a dysfunctional digestive and immune system, an imbalance in hormone health and chronic fatigue.

"Fibromyalgia is often triggered by a major stressful life event causing emotional, psychological or physical distress," she explained. "Research has found that people with fibromyalgia show a low level of certain hormones in the brain, serotonin, noradrenalin and dopamine, which are responsible for regulating stress response, mood and sleep, all contributing factors of fibromyalgia symptoms.

"It's believed that a chemical imbalance disrupts the function of the central nervous system, brain, spinal cord and nerves, which changes the pain signals throughout the body and increases the sensitivity to pain and other stimuli such as emotional and environmental stress."

Fibromyalgia diagnosis is often a lengthy and frustrating process of eliminating other health concerns and monitoring symptoms over several months. Medicinal treatments include anti-depressants such as SNRIs which treat low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, sedatives, painkillers, anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatory and antipsychotic drugs. These cause unpleasant side-effects for some patients and add to the list of existing symptoms.

By contrast, the Fibro Clinic South West offers an integrated approach with holistic, complementary treatments and natural remedies to manage fibromyalgia and alleviate the symptoms.

The clinic holds regular support groups and workshops, as many sufferers benefit from sharing their experiences in a safe environment where they can talk freely and feel reassured that they are not alone. The holistic approach focuses on each person as an individual, taking into account the range and severity of their symptoms, any co-existing health problems, and their lifestyle. It explores ways to manage pain to improve mobility and new coping skills to restore a sense of calm and wellbeing to mind and body, boosting mental clarity as well as relieving physical discomfort.

In September the clinic is launching The Fibro Tool Kit, a bespoke series of five sessions addressing the emotional, psychological and physical challenges of fibromyalgia. The programme is designed to help each individual to understand their condition and develop a long-term programme of self-care and symptom management. They will be helped to create and build upon a range of fundamental coping skills to de-stress the mind and body, including mindfulness, meditation and gentle stretching with chair yoga. Participants will receive advice, information and guidance on the body's pain mechanism and central nervous system, nutrition and supplements to support immune, digestive and hormone health, preventing flare-ups and restoring energy levels with natural remedies.

The Fibro Clinic South West is at 1 Mill Road, Barnstaple, North Devon EX31 1JQ. For further information, visit the websiteor email info@thefibroclinicsouthwest.co.uk