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What Causes Fibromyalgia?

written by: LaurieBoris • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 8/28/2010

Millions of people, mostly women between 30 and 50, suffer from this frustrating and sometimes debilitating disease that robs them of sleep and randomly riddles them with pain. What are the causes of fibromyalgia? While nearly every medical professional has a theory, nobody knows for sure.

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    What Causes Fibromyalgia?

    Sleep disorders are common symptoms of fibromyalgia Fibromyalgia is a medical condition marked by widespread pain and stiffness, fatigue, sleep problems, and anxiety, among other symptoms. While not deadly or degenerative, fibromyalgia can be debilitating in some people and can definitely compromise the quality of life. Even though medical science is learning more and more about this puzzling disease, and has many theories about its origins, the causes of fibromyalgia remain a mystery.

    Some believe that fibromyalgia is caused by a physically traumatic event, like a serious injury or surgery. This could be why some people develop fibromyalgia symptoms following a car accident, or a severe bout of certain illnesses like influenza or Lyme disease. Researchers believe this type of trauma involving the central nervous system can scramble signals, leading to the lowering of the pain threshold.

    Some in the medical community believe a precipitating cause of fibromyalgia is childhood trauma, such as abuse or bullying. One form of trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has been shown in some studies to lead to fibromyalgia. Researchers believe this form of intense stress can actually change the chemistry of the brain. Certain hormones, like cortisol, are produced when the body perceives stress. Unrelenting stress keeps the level of cortisol constant and, along with other health problems, can lead to sleep disorders and muscle pains consistent with fibromyalgia.

    Stress can be a contributing factor to fibromyalgia Other chemical and hormonal imbalances have also been blamed. A deficiency of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system, has been linked to higher perceived levels of pain. The low levels of serotonin interfere with the body’s natural painkilling abilities. Women, as shown by some studies, have about seven times fewer serotonins in their brains than men, and women are far more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia.

    Others speculate a genetic link. While anecdotal evidence exists for this theory—some people with fibromyalgia have relatives who are similarly affected—no direct scientific proof has been shown.

    Some believe that the sleep disorders plaguing those with fibromyalgia are actually a cause of the disease. In several studies, researchers deprived test subjects of sleep. The subjects developed muscle pain and a lower pain threshold, consistent with fibromyalgia.

    One controversial theory has linked fibromyalgia with mental health issues, because mild depression and anxiety are common companions of fibromyalgia. However, most in the mental health field now believe that the chronic pain of fibromyalgia might lead to anxiety and depression, and not the other way around.

    And some think the causes of fibromyalgia are a combination of these factors. For instance, someone who is genetically predisposed could contract a virus, which may cause the gene for fibromyalgia to be switched on. Hopefully, with more research, the millions of people who live with fibromyalgia will be able to switch it off.

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    References

    WebMD, "Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Fibromyalgia," http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/slideshow-fibromyalgia-overview

    Mayo Clinic, "Fibromyalgia," http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fibromyalgia/DS00079/DSECTION=causes

    Fibromyalgia Symptoms, "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Fibromyalgia," http://www.fibromyalgia-symptoms.org/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-and-fibromyalgia.ht

    Fibromyalgia Symptoms, "Fibromyalgia Causes, Alternative Treatments, Sleep Disorders & Muscle Trauma," http://www.fibromyalgia-symptoms.org/fibromyalgia_alternative_therapies.html

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    Credits

    Photos courtesy of istock.com