While the exact cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, scientists and researchers have discovered some possible fibromyalgia causes.

Fibromyalgia Causes to Be Aware Of

Since research is ongoing, scientists are currently looking at conditions or symptoms that may be tied to fibromyalgia. Below is a list of 14 possible fibromyalgia causes.

1. Chemical Imbalances

Chemical imbalances in the brain are linked to increased pain perception, characterized by allodynia (greater sensitivity to stimuli that are not usually painful) and hyperalgesia (a greater response to stimuli which cause pain).

MRI studies support the research of chemical imbalance as a cause, showing that those with fibromyalgia demonstrate pain responses with low-pain stimuli as opposed to the response of the individuals without fibromyalgia.

Research indicates that those who have fibromyalgia have uncharacteristically low levels of certain hormones in their brains. Hormones like serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine are responsible for regulating functions in the body such as mood, appetite, sleep and how the body responds to stress. These hormones are partially responsible for processing pain messages sent by the nerves to the brain.

There is also research that suggests that a change in cortisol levels may contribute to fibromyalgia. Some medications used to boost these hormone levels can also disrupt the pain signals from the nerves, which is why consulting with your doctor is always better than self-medicating.

2. Gender

The majority of those affected by fibromyalgia are women over 40. There could be something at play with the female hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Both of these hormones affect the nervous system, particularly when it comes to pain. Estrogen excites the brain and progesterone hinders the activity of the central nervous system.

When these hormones fall out of balance (for instance, during menopause), they can contribute to the symptoms of fibromyalgia. With hormone imbalance, there can be increased activity in the pain-related nerves or failure of parts of the brain that regulate pain control.

With fibromyalgia, as well as menopause, there are fluctuations in mood, increased chance of a migraine, tenderness and fatigue.

3. Abnormal Pain Messages

There is speculation that people with fibromyalgia have developed a new system for sending and processing pain messages. Somehow, the way their central nervous system receives, decodes and transmits pain messages has changed on its own accord, sending these amplified messages around the body.

These changes could be the result of chemical changes in the nervous system. A change in how the brain interprets these messages can explain why those with fibromyalgia experience constant pain. Research suggests the nervous system (especially the central nervous system) is involved with the pain.

4. Heredity

Some people may develop fibromyalgia simply because it is written into their DNA and it is believed to run in families. It could explain why some people have a greater likelihood than others to contract the disease.

Pain, the most prominent symptom of fibromyalgia, is rooted in neurogenetics. Many people develop fibromyalgia after experiencing some trigger, which can be the cause of genetic coding.

In all likelihood, some people are born with genetics that increases their chance of contracting fibromyalgia. Genes alone do not cause fibromyalgia, so at best, this is just a contributing factor to the disease and not the underlying cause.

5. Sleep Issues

Another reason to get a sufficient amount of quality sleep each night is that disturbed sleep patterns may be a cause of fibromyalgia, as well as a symptom. Extreme exhaustion can be a result of fibromyalgia, and this fatigue may cause higher levels of pain.

With some sleep disorders, there is an abnormality that occurs during nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep that causes a person to wake or push them into a lighter level of sleep. Sleep dysfunction that falls into this category is linked to abnormal levels of neurotransmitters, neuroendocrine and immune substances.

Some research confirms there is disordered sleep physiology linked to fibromyalgia.

6. Physical or Emotional Stress

Stressful events can trigger fibromyalgia, and a number of events have been linked to the condition. Fibromyalgia does not develop after an obvious trigger; it is difficult to pinpoint an exact moment or incident that was the contributing trigger.

Triggers can include:

  • Trauma: Emotional turbulence and injury (especially to the upper spine), can instill a neurohormonal change that triggers fibromyalgia. Alterations in how hormone-regulating centers function can affect the nervous system and change psychological processes. Things like car accidents, birth, surgery, or death of a loved one can all fall into this category.
  • Infection: Viruses can have long-lasting effects on the immune system. Scientists speculate that viral particles attach to cells in the brain that contribute to the amplified pain response.

Associated conditions can also be linked to fibromyalgia. Often, conditions that are associated with fibromyalgia affect the autoimmune system, joints, muscles and/or bones. A doctor will usually test for the conditions below when diagnosing fibromyalgia.

7. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis brings damage to the joints by wearing down the cartilage between your bones. This erosion of cartilage makes the bones of joints rub together and results in pain and stiffness. This pain and rigidity, as well as other symptoms like fatigue, overlap with symptoms of fibromyalgia.

About 20% of people who have osteoarthritis also have fibromyalgia. Pain from osteoarthritis may cause fibromyalgia symptoms to flare-up; treating your osteoarthritis may help minimize your fibromyalgia symptoms.

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8. Lupus

Lupus is a condition that confuses the immune system and causes it to attack healthy cells and tissues throughout the body. About one-third of those diagnosed with lupus also have fibromyalgia, but what is interesting is that fibromyalgia develops after lupus has established itself.

Many of the symptoms of lupus are similar to fibromyalgia, which means that some medications will not generate a response.

9. Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus that spreads by blood transfer from somebody who is infected to somebody who is not infected. Right now, accurate numbers of those affected with both conditions are not available. However, there has been an upswing in the number of emerging instances of patients who have both.

There is a reason to believe that hepatitis C may be a trigger for fibromyalgia. There has been one study that determined there was a higher occurrence of fibromyalgia in hepatitis C patients than in the general American population.

Harvard researchers also discovered that a certain protein that causes people to feel pain is dramatically increased in fibromyalgia patients; production of this protein also increased when it has been exposed to the hepatitis C virus.

10. Lyme Disease

Scientists have determined an overlap in fibromyalgia and this tick-borne inflammatory disease. Research has shown that patients with Lyme disease have a higher prevalence of fibromyalgia than the rest of the population. The root cause of your fibromyalgia symptoms may be the result of Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease.

11. Epstein-Barr Virus

Epstein-Barr is one of the herpes viruses and is spread through bodily fluids, such as saliva. Once you are infected with Epstein-Barr, the virus remains dormant in your system for years, and this virus can be reactivated if conditions are right.

Those with fibromyalgia generally have weaker immune systems which leaves them vulnerable to develop a chronic infection.

12. Parvovirus B19

Parvovirus B19 causes fifth disease and brings symptoms such as rash, fever, runny nose, headache and pain. Like fibromyalgia, this virus is more common in women than in men.

The results of a 2009 study measuring two parvovirus antibodies show that parvovirus B19 infection may contribute to the development of fibromyalgia, or may even be a trigger for fibromyalgia.

13. Ankylosing Spondylitis

A chronic inflammatory disease, ankylosing spondylitis causes pain and swelling in parts of the axial skeletal system (the 80 bones that protect your vital organs from your head to the base of your vertebral column). Studies show that fibromyalgia is more common in patients with ankylosing spondylitis than those without it.

14. Temporomandibular Disorder

Temporomandibular disorder is a condition that causes pain in the jaw, cheeks, ears and temples. This disorder is more common among people who have fibromyalgia than in the general population.

Temporomandibular disorder may happen before or after fibromyalgia is diagnosed.

When fibromyalgia is diagnosed first, temporomandibular disorder may be the result of weakened connective tissues. Temporomandibular disorder, when present before fibromyalgia, may contribute to a hypersensitivity of the central nervous system.

Ongoing Research for What Causes Fibromyalgia

Research into fibromyalgia causes dates back to the early 1900s when medial papers first became published on fibrositis. In the 1980s, there was an explosion of research on the condition, and it has been full steam ahead ever since.

Advancing research brings scientists closer to answers every day, and this new research brings new treatment ideas. Some promising research is being conducted on cytokines, the protein that regulates immune cell function. MRIs are able to evaluate responses in patients and offer pain-free controls.

Cognitive behavioral therapies can advance the knowledge of the psychological side of the condition. Once a true cause is determined, it will offer improved ways to diagnose, treat and prevent the condition.

The Bottom Line

Though the true fibromyalgia causes are still a mystery, scientists are getting closer to figuring out the root of this condition. Fibromyalgia is a complex condition with many studies ongoing and persistent research into the cause of the condition.

Each piece of information that comes out of this work brings us closer to understanding the true cause of fibromyalgia. Once the causes are confirmed by science, it will pave the way for more effective treatment.