Precise causes of fibromyalgia are unknown. However, there are some theories about the causes of the pain disorder. Those range from hormonal imbalances to psychological factors and even genetics. While science and medicine have yet to determine exactly what causes fibromyalgia, most researchers do believe that the condition is a result of many physical and emotional issues, not just one single event.
The most frequently cited possible causes of fibromyalgia include:
- Low serotonin levels
- Increased “substance P” chemical in the body
- Emotional or psychological distress
- Poor physical conditioning
- Sleep disorders and insomnia
- Genetic factors
- Hormonal changes, such as menopause
Some Theories About the Origins of Fibromyalgia
Many researchers believe that fibromyalgia may be caused by low levels of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter. This neurotransmitter is associated with the anxiety reducing, calming sense of being which helps to offset the sensation of pain. Lower levels of serotonin are thought to lead to reduction in pain threshold, a heightened sensitivity to pain.
Reduced effectiveness of this natural endorphin painkiller and resulting lowered pain threshold is also amplified through increased presence of “substance P,” a chemical in the body which intensifies pain signals. Between the reduction in serotonin and increase in substance P, fibromyalgia symptoms manifest.
Some research has indicated a link between fibromyalgia and sudden trauma to the spinal cord and brain. But all of these suspected causes are just speculation, in that precise causes have not yet been discovered.
Who Fibromyalgia Affects
Fibromyalgia more frequently affects women over men. This is attributed by some research to the much lower levels of serotonin that women have in their brain, compared to their male counterparts. In fact, women have 700 percent less serotonin than men. This is believed to be why more women suffer from fibromyalgia syndrome, FMS.
Other researchers believe that fibromyalgia is related to biochemical changes, as part of menopause or other drastic shifts in hormone levels in the body. Some people with fibromyalgia also have lower levels of HGH, human growth hormone. Some muscle pain may be attributed to these low levels of HGH.
Can Fibromyalgia Be Caused By Stress?
Poor physical fitness and stress are both considered contributing factors in risk of fibromyalgia. Very slight damage to the muscles, called microtrauma, is suggested by some theorists as a reason for persistent cycles of fatigue and muscle pain. Like all other suspected causes of fibromyalgia, these theories are still unproven.
Sleep Disorders and Insomnia As Possible Causes of Fibromyalgia
Non-restorative sleep, sleep that is too light and does not refresh the body, and insomnia are both common in most people with fibromyalgia. These sleep problems may cause a drop in serotonin levels, also resulting in increased sensitivity to pain.
Researchers have replicated this lower pain threshold in the body by depriving female subjects of sleep. The study resulted in simulated fibromyalgia in the women.
Does Depression Cause Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is often accompanied by low-level depression. Some scientists once believed that this created a link between depression and the low pain threshold disorder. This is no longer considered a possibility, as far as depression causing fibromyalgia. However, fibromyalgia symptoms often worsen in people who suffer anxiety and depression as a result of their chronic pain.
Genetic Link to Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is like other rheumatic diseases, in that it may be the result of a hereditary problem passed from mothers to daughters. Many scientists believe that how the body processes painful stimuli may be regulated by the individual’s genes. The theory exists that people with fibromyalgia have a defective gene or multiple defective genes which cause an overly intense reaction to stimuli which other individuals may not feel as painful. There are several genes found to occur more frequently in people with fibromyalgia.
It is believed that this genetic makeup causes a person’s physical response to certain physical or emotional stressors, such as trauma or illness, to change. This change can create a higher pain sensitivity.
Common Risk Factors for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia has proven tricky for researchers, in that common risk factors associated with the syndrome are present in some patients, while other patients have fibromyalgia without any of the risk factors. Additionally, many women with fibromyalgia have co-disorders such as osteoarthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases. Other women have none of these co-disorders.
Some possible risk factors identified by researchers as associated with fibromyalgia include:
- Gender, as FMS usually affects women
- Genes, as mothers with fibromyalgia tend to have daughters with FMS
- Menopause or other hormonal imbalance
- Poor physical fitness
- Spinal cord or brain trauma due to injury, emotional stress or illness
How Is Fibromyalgia Best Explained to Friends and Family?
Fibromyalgia can be frustrating, in that it is an invisible disorder. The patient may be experiencing ongoing symptoms, yet look physically healthy.
There is no single cause for fibromyalgia, as far as current research indicates. We do not yet know what causes this disorder to begin or why it flares.
Fatigue and depression can become quite consuming as a result of the unending pain, tenderness, insomnia and sleep problems of fibromyalgia. Anxiety, lower activity levels and intensified pain can also become greater. Energy level decreases due to troubled sleep, lack of consistent REM sleep and psychological effects. Over time, the body can stop effectively healing itself when tissues are damaged.
When you are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you will be able to start treatments which can prove effective. This will help to manage symptoms and maintain quality of living.