The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown, but there are probably a number of factors involved. Many people associate the development of fibromyalgia with a physically or emotionally stressful or traumatic event, such as an automobile accident. Some connect it to repetitive injuries. Others link it to an illness. For others, fibromyalgia seems to occur spontaneously.
Many researchers are examining other causes, including problems with how the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) processes pain.
Some scientists speculate that a person’s genes may regulate the way his or her body processes painful stimuli. According to this theory, people with fibromyalgia may have a gene or genes that cause them to react strongly to stimuli that most people would not perceive as painful. There have already been several genes identified that occur more commonly in fibromyalgia patients, and NIAMS-supported researchers are currently looking at other possibilities.
Fibromyalgia can run in families. It’s likely that there is an unidentified genetic abnormality that makes certain people more at risk for fibromyalgia. The National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) states that certain genes may regulate the way that the body regulates pain responses. Scientists speculate that people with fibromyalgia may carry one or more genes that cause them to react strongly to stimuli that another person may not perceive as painful.
For many patients, symptoms begin after emotional or physical trauma or a bout with an infectious disease. These do not likely cause fibromyalgia by themselves, but may trigger the onset in people who are already at risk for it.
Problems with getting enough sleep, or spending enough time in the deepest stages of sleep, are common in this disorder. However, doctors are not sure if this is a symptom or a cause of the disorder. Improper sleep patterns can affect the levels of some of the brain chemicals listed above.
There are several factors that indicate an increased risk of fibromyalgia. However, their presence doesn’t mean one will certainly be diagnosed with the syndrome.
According to the NIAMS, Women are eight to nine times more likely than men to have fibromyalgia. Scientists believe female reproductive hormones may play a role in the pain disorder.
According to the NIAMS, the most common age to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia is early to middle adulthood, between 20 and 50 years old.
If you have a close family member with fibromyalgia, you are more likely to be diagnosed yourself.
It is not known if sleep problems are a symptom or a cause of fibromyalgia. However, people who have disorders affecting sleep such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome are more likely to have the pain disorder.
Other Rheumatic Diseases
Rheumatic diseases affect the joints, muscles, and bones. People who have another rheumatic disease are more likely to have fibromyalgia as well. These diseases include:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- ankylosing spondylitis