Fibromyalgia is a debilitating syndrome that mainly affects an individual’s soft tissue and muscle, resulting in pain throughout the body and mental distress.
Classic fibromyalgia symptoms and causes include stiffness and pain in the jaw, stiff joints and muscles, irregular sleep, painful menstruation, restless leg syndrome, concentration and memory problems, widespread pain, muscle tiredness, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, numbness and tingling in extremities, temperature sensitivity, and fatigue.
A fibromyalgia diagnosis cannot be made based on any type of lab test. This disease is usually distinguished from others through means of eliminating other potential causes for an individual’s symptoms, which must have been persistent for three months or longer.
Treatment for fibromyalgia focuses on pain management and quality of life through self-care and medications. A change in diet is also often used in the treatment of this disease.
Fibromyalgia Causes and Risk Factors
While the causes of fibromyalgia are not entirely clear, there are numerous risk factors and triggers for the disease. Learn about them now.
Emotional or Physical Trauma
Emotional or physical trauma can cause the development of fibromyalgia and trigger symptom flare-ups. The mechanism behind this is associated with the affected individual’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Emotional stressors can cause the physiological stress response to become activated, and lead to the delivery of sensory input information to the brain.
Repeated and excessive stimulation of the functional units of this response in an individual can cause their effector systems to become more sensitive. Greater sensitivity causes alternative or less significant stressors to activate the stress response easily.
The combination of the stress response, emotional reactions, physiological responses, and biological reactions that occur and interact with each other due to physical and emotional trauma can cause the development of fibromyalgia.
Of the population of fibromyalgia patients, around half has existing post-traumatic stress disorder, and two-thirds of these individuals had developed fibromyalgia after the commencement of their PTSD.
Some individuals may be at an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia due to the failure of certain psychological buffers to work effectively on emotional stress that is caused by everyday life events. Physical trauma contributes because it causes emotional stress.
These mechanisms related to the patient’s brain may primarily drive the chain of neurophysiological responses known to causes fibromyalgia.
An individual’s genetics can cause them to be at an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia. The exact mechanisms are not entirely clear, but variations in numerous genes with small defects are known to increase an individual’s risk of developing fibromyalgia.
The affected genes are known to have roles in how the individual’s brain perceives pain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for sending signals from one nerve cell to the next. Genes involved in the processes of neurotransmitter production and breakdown may contribute.
Studies have shown individuals who have first-degree relatives like parents or siblings affected by fibromyalgia have a risk for the disease that is eight times higher than the general population.
First degree relatives of individuals with fibromyalgia are often affected by irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and other problems involving chronic pain. Due to sharing the same genetically related risk factors, these types of disorders may aggregate in families.
Genes that have been identified to have relevance in pain perception include those that control voltage-gated sodium channels, mu-opioid receptors, dopaminergic pathways, GABAergic pathways, GTP cyclohydrolase 1, catechol-O-methyl transferase, and glutamatergic pathways.
Presence of Rheumatic Conditions
An individual affected by any of the numerous rheumatic conditions has an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia compared to individuals who are not affected. Between fifteen and thirty percent of individuals with rheumatic or autoimmune disorders also have fibromyalgia.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that causes severe inflammation in the body and chronic pain. The mechanism is thought to be related to long term inflammation exposure that leads to the transition between peripheral pain and chronic central pain.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease that shares many symptoms with fibromyalgia. Autoantibodies have been identified in systemic lupus erythematosus patients that are directed against certain receptors called NR2A and NR2B units.
These receptors are abundant throughout the peripheral and central nervous system, and identified autoantibodies can produce adverse effects on emotional behavior, cognitive function, and pain processing.
While exact mechanisms and definite pathways of how immune system components in individuals affected by rheumatic conditions increase the risk of fibromyalgia, it is known to be associated with a combination of irregular nerve impulse and abnormal antibody activity.
Different types of infections in an individual’s body can initially cause or trigger fibromyalgia flare-ups. Some individuals who contract an infection believe the infection causes their fibromyalgia to develop, but the infection has just caused a flare-up of undiagnosed fibromyalgia symptoms.
In other cases, the bacteria, virus, or other pathogen that caused the infection is never eliminated and hovers around causing continuous low-grade infection in the body.
This persistent low-grade infection activates autoimmune responses that trigger the individual’s fibromyalgia. Certain infections can leave permanent alterations in an individual’s body after the infection is eliminated that can cause fibromyalgia.
Viruses such as cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, influenza viruses, adenoviruses, human herpesvirus 6, and human immunodeficiency virus can result in permanent changes that trigger the fibromyalgia cascade.
Bacterial infections can also trigger the fibromyalgia cascade, including those that cause salmonella, listeria, and chlamydia. Parasite and yeast infections have also caused fibromyalgia, including candida yeast infections and giardia infections.
Gender and Age
An individual’s gender and age can cause them to be at an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia in comparison to other individuals. More than five million Americans over eighteen years old have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Of those diagnosed, between eighty and ninety percent are female.
Females also have more extensive symptoms of fibromyalgia than males. On average, females have tenderness or pain at between eleven and eighteen different points, where males typically have around six.
While the exact reasons behind the gender imbalance in this condition are not entirely understood, it is known to be associated with a couple of factors.
Upon the discovery that fibromyalgia peaks when a female is in her reproductive years, hormone fluctuations and differences between genders has been implicated.
The higher level of testosterone and endorphins in males can cause them to have a higher threshold of pain than females. The average age of individuals at the time of diagnosis is approximately forty-five years old. The risk for a fibromyalgia diagnosis increases as an individual gets older.
The age of diagnosis is not always the age at which the individual experiences the onset of their fibromyalgia symptoms. While most experience first symptoms in their middle years, fibromyalgia can happen in an individual of any age.
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