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Association Between Viral Infection and Fibromyalgia

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 4/14/2011

Is there an association between fibromyalgia and viral infection? Some experts think so, but has it ever been proven? If so, what viruses cause it? Find out more about about a possible connection between these two diseases.

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    Fibromyalgia is a perplexing, poorly understood disease - and theories abound as to its cause. Some experts have proposed an association between fibromyalgia and viral infection. It’s not surprising that the muscle aches, depression, fatigue and morning stiffness so many fibromyalgia sufferers experience might be blamed on a chronic viral infection. Is there a link between the two conditions?

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    Is There an Association between Fibromyalgia and Viral Infection?

    One argument for a link between the two conditions is that the symptoms of fibromyalgia sometimes become worse when a fibromyalgia sufferer develops a viral infection, although this doesn’t necessarily prove that a virus causes fibromyalgia.

    Viruses that have been proposed at various times to cause fibromyalgia are the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mononucleosis, cytomegaloviruses, parvoviruses, the herpes virus, adenoviruses that cause colds, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, and even the influenza virus. But proving such a connection isn’t easy, although there is some anecdotal evidence. A significant number of fibromyalgia suffers claim their first symptoms came on after they developed a viral infection – and never left.

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    Is There Any Proof That Viral Infections Are Linked with Fibromyalgia

    A study published in the British Journal of Rheumatology looked at an association between fibromyalgia and viral infection. They proposed that fibromyalgia could be triggered by an infection with the hepatitis C virus, a virus that causes liver inflammation and often becomes chronic.

    To look for a link, researchers did a complete physical exam and drew lab studies, including titers for the hepatitis C antibody, in 112 people diagnosed with fibromyalgia. They discovered as many as 15% of the fibromyalgia patients they studied had antibodies against the hepatitis C virus, compared to only 5% in a group of people who had rheumatoid arthritis but not fibromyalgia. They suggested based on these findings, that there is a probable association between fibromyalgia and viral infection with the hepatitis C virus.

    Unfortunately, a more recent study published in the Journal of Rheumatology cast doubt on this link. It found no higher incidence of antibodies to the hepatitis C virus in fibromyalgia sufferers compared to the normal population. Another study looking at whether antibodies to parvovirus were higher in people with fibromyalgia found no statistically significant increase either.

    So where does this leave us? As of now, there’s no real proof that viruses are linked with fibromyalgia, but some experts believe it’s still plausible. Viruses can become chronic, never leaving the body, and still subtly exert their influence by causing symptoms similar to those fibromyalgia sufferers experience. Viruses also alter the immune system, and an immune system over-response could account for the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

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    The Bottom Line?

    An association between fibromyalgia and viral infection is still unproven, which further adds to the mystery of this poorly understood disease that causes so much discomfort and misery. Unfortunately, even if fibromyalgia is one day linked to a virus, it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to treat. Unlike bacterial infections, there are no antibiotics for viral infections – and no known cure – and that’s not what most fibromyalgia sufferers want to hear.

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    References

    Acta Med Port. 1994 Jun;7(6):337-41.

    British Journal of Rheumatology 1997; 36:981-985.

    J Rheumatol 2005;32:1118-21.