Healthy Living

Understanding the Causes of Fibromyalgia

Understanding the Causes of Fibromyalgia

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is a medical mystery; however, research on this condition and pain and sensory processing is being monitored to discover how fibromyalgia develops and impacts the body. For now, research has identified several risk factors that predispose an individual for developing fibromyalgia.

Risk Factors for Fibromyalgia:

  • Being female
  • Family history of fibromyalgia or other rheumatic disorders
  • History of sleep disturbances
  • Experience of traumatic event, such as a car accident

It should be noted that having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that an individual will develop fibromyalgia, just that you may have a great risk of doing so. If you are concerned about your risk of developing fibromyalgia, contact your health care provider to discuss.

Potential Causes

  • Genetics: Each of us carries a genetic signature that makes us a unique individual. This genetic identity develops in utero and results in shared traits among family members.  Our DNA also determines the color of our eyes, our height, and our predisposition to certain ailments, as such, the risk of fibromyalgia can be passed down from parent to child likely in the form of a genetic abnormality.

Research has identified that there are specific genes that regulate our response to stimuli, such as pain or pressure. Many scientists who study this neurological pain response believe that individuals with fibromyalgia carry a gene that causes their body to react more strongly to pain stimuli than the average person.

  • Injury and Infections: Some individuals with fibromyalgia report that they had no symptoms of neurological problems prior to an infection or injury. Evidence seems to indicate that for some, these events trigger the development or expression of fibromyalgia. Medical events such as overexertion, neck injury, surgery, childbirth, and motor vehicle accidents are commonly precipitating events identified by patients.

Studies have found that individuals, who develop fibromyalgia after an accident, especially motor vehicle accidents involving a neck injury, experience a sudden onset of symptoms. This can result in a decrease in mobility and a decrease in quality of life for the individual.

In addition, some individuals develop fibromyalgia after experiencing the influenza virus, pneumonia, or the Epstein-Barr virus. This connection is believed to be due to changes in the immune system response which impact the neurotransmitters responsible for responding to pain stimuli. Further research in the area of both injury and infection needs to be done to further link these events to fibromyalgia.

  • Emotional Distress: Onset of fibromyalgia as well as intensification of symptoms has been linked to emotional and psychological triggers. For example, if an individual with fibromyalgia experiences an increase of stress at work or home, he or she may notice more pain or increased sensitivity.  Research has found a correlation between chronic stress and fibromyalgia pain. This is believed to be linked to changes in hormone levels caused by stress, which impacts our neurotransmitters - the chemical that helps us process stimuli, such as pain.

In addition, it is common for individuals with fibromyalgia to also have depression and order anxiety disorders. This again is linked to neurotransmitters and may be a cause of fibromyalgia onset for predisposed individuals.

  • Sleep Disturbances: Individuals with fibromyalgia often report sleep disturbances - restless legs syndrome, insomnia, difficulty sleeping due to pain - at a higher rate than the general population. Studies show that up to 70% of fibromyalgia patients report a connection between poor sleep and increased pain. Although it may seem that fibromyalgia causes the sleep disturbances, there is evidence to show that the lack of restorative sleep actually triggers the onset or flare-up of fibromyalgia.