Fibromyalgia is such an ambiguous and untraceable disease that the sufferers used to get diagnosed with mental disorders instead of a physical one because it was assumed that to be experience that much constant, widespread pain it had to be psychological. Now, we know that it is a physical condition, though we are still unsure of the cause.
There is support that a physical trauma can initiate symptoms, as can surgery, infection, and deep-rooted psychological stress, and disturbances in sleep, but these aren’t the fire-starters in every instance of fibromyalgia. In other cases, fibromyalgia symptoms just crop up over time. There is, however, a greater chance of developing fibromyalgia if you have a family member with fibromyalgia. Likelihood that you will develop fibromyalgia is increased eightfold if you have a relative affected by the disease. The same likelihood is seen in people with depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and migraines – all of which are symptoms of fibromyalgia.
In terms of research, there have at least been advancements in terms of understanding what is actually occurring when a person with fibromyalgia experiences fibromyalgia pain: in a study, researchers took two groups of people, one group being a healthy control group and one group being a group affected by fibromyalgia. The researchers applied heat to the hands of all of the participants and monitored what occurred. In the healthy group, the burst of pain dissipated between applications of heat; in the group with fibromyalgia, the pain accumulated. Rather than having the pain from each burst of heat subsiding, the pain compounded each time, making it more and more unbearable with each application. Basically, having fibromyalgia means that your central nervous system doesn’t properly handle pain stimulus. Unfortunately, though, we still don’t know how the nervous system gets stuck in this pain loop.
Some studies have speculated that lower levels of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, can lead to lowered pain thresholds and a greater sensitivity to pain. Because serotonin is in charge of calming the body, alleviating anxiety, it would make sense to connect serotonin to fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia patients also have a presence of a chemical called “substance P” in their body, which amplifies pain signals. Spinal taps performed on people with fibromyalgia have found certain proteins not present in healthy people. This suggestion of serotonin levels as a cause of fibromyalgia is supported by the fact that far more women get fibromyalgia than men; women already have around seven times less serotonin than men. As well, insomnia – a trait of fibromyalgia – also leads to low serotonin levels.
Another possibility, linked to why women are the main demographic of fibromyalgia suffers, is that the syndrome is brought on by a biochemical change in the body, potentially related to the hormonal changes of menopause. On another chemical note, in some – though not all – cases of fibromyalgia, the person had low levels of human growth hormone, which would add to the muscle pain characteristic of fibromyalgia.
While diet is decidedly not a cause of fibromyalgia, and research doesn’t necessarily support there being any foods people with fibromyalgia should avoid, a lot of fibromyalgia patients find that various foods affect their condition. Pay attention to how the foods you eat make you feel and tailor your diet accordingly.