What causes Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a medical term not many people are familiar with, even though it is a relatively common disease as it affects about 5 million American adults every year. 

So what is a fibromyalgia retreat? Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that affects the brain. Though it is not yet fully understood, numerous brain scans on patients with Fibromyalgia show it’s primarily an inflammation of the brain’s pain processing system or area. Usually, your brain and spine are constantly processing pain from other parts of the body. When there’s a glitch in this connection, pain becomes amplified because your brain reacts to this glitch by blowing the pain signals it receives out of proportion. 

Let me give you a practical example to demonstrate the disease. Let’s imagine you stub your toe while walking. Signals are sent to your brain via your spinal cord; your brain processes these signals, and you feel pain. Over time, the pain gets better as you take medications and heal. But, it isn’t so with Fibromyalgia. The pain doesn’t just go away. It persists despite treatment and medication. 

What causes it? 

Medical experts are not sure of the causes of Fibromyalgia as there is no conclusive data to pinpoint the culprits. However, recent advances in Rheumatology show that some events are known to trigger not only your brain’s sensitivity to pain but also how it processes pain signals. These events include:

Physical trauma such as a car crash, traumatic life events such as wars, brain injury, and a major surgical procedure could reset the central nervous system, leading to increased activities in the brain’s pain center, which further leads to heightened pain perception. 

Emotional trauma. Children who grow under abusive parents may grow to interpret pain differently due to abnormal levels of chemicals (such as glutamate) in the brain. 

Poor sleep habit. Poor sleep pattern is known to lower the human pain threshold. This increases the risk of developing widespread pain. Furthermore, Fibromyalgia causes widespread pain itself; you can think of it as a self-perpetuating cycle of pain and sleeplessness. 

Infection. Viruses and bacteria weaken our immune system. Some could take up lifelong residence in our system, causing a lifelong effect on our immune system. Despite treatments, some of these microbes, such as Epstein-Barr virus, some strains of influenza virus, hepatitis B and C virus, chronic candida yeast infections, etc., may hang around, triggering autoimmune reactions thereby contributing to Fibromyalgia. 

Hormone imbalance. Hormones like cortisol, noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin regulate some important physiological processes such as mood, behavior, response to stress, processing pain, etc. Research shows that when these hormones are abnormally low in the brain due to stress, they can act as precursors for Fibromyalgia. Furthermore, associations have been established between fibromyalgia symptoms and hormone imbalances. 

Genetics. Though genetics plays a small role in the disease, it cannot be passed down directly from parents to children. However, when a family has a history of Fibromyalgia, some causal environmental factors can trigger the disease easily. 

Risk factors 

A risk factor is something that increases a person’s chance of coming down with a disease. Several risk factors increase a person’s chance of getting Fibromyalgia. These include; 

Gender. Almost 90% of fibromyalgia cases are women. This means women are twice more likely to get the disease than men. The reason for this is not farfetched. Compared to men, women suffer higher stress levels and respond to stress differently because of some underlying factors like menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, etc. For example, menstruation can lead to hormonal imbalance. 

Age. Though Fibromyalgia has been diagnosed in people of all ages, the people most affected are 40 and above. 

Mental health problems. Some mental health problems like anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and depression could “trigger” Fibromyalgia. 

Reoccurring injuries. People who have particular repetitive motion or strain injuries are more likely to end up with Fibromyalgia. Other disorders like osteoarthritis, lupus, etc., can also increase your chances of developing the disease. 

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia 

Some of the prominent symptoms of Fibromyalgia include; 

Pain. Widespread pain is one of the main symptoms of Fibromyalgia. People with Fibromyalgia often complain of burning sensations or aches all over their bodies. This pain is particularly intense at the back or neck. This could even get worse with increased stress levels. 

Extreme fatigue. Extreme fatigue is one of the hallmarks of Fibromyalgia. The fatigue may just hit you unexpectedly, and you feel drained of all your energy. 

Fibro fog. You have problems concentrating or memory-related problems. This leads to confusion, forgetfulness, cognitive difficulties, and brain fog. The common name given to these memory-related problems is “fibro fog.” Fibro fog develops as a result of some parts of your brain receiving less oxygen due to neurological disturbance that constricts your brain blood vessels. 

Headaches. Another hallmark of Fibromyalgia is a chronic headache. This is caused by abnormal levels of substance P in the brain. Substance P is the chemical that helps your brain regulate pain sensitivity. 

Fibromyalgia headache may also take the form of migraine. When it comes to Fibromyalgia, simple activities such as yawning or eating can trigger a headache. 

Insomnia. Pain and fatigue can cause trouble sleeping which inadvertently leads to insomnia. Insomnia, on the other hand, can also heighten your sensitivity to pain and increase your fatigue levels. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle. 

Dry mouth, nose, and eyes. Fibromyalgia causes a reduction in salivary secretions leading to dry mouth. A dry nose is caused by inflammation of the nasal cavity and sinuses. While dry eyes are caused by the drying up of the mucous membrane in the eyes. These combined conditions make it difficult to fall asleep. 

Diarrhea. Irritable bowel movement caused by digestive problems is one of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Alongside diarrhea, patients often also complain of chronic heartburn and bad gas. 

Mental health problems. Besides physical impacts, Fibromyalgia also impacts you psychologically. Psychological problems arise as a result of the impairment of your daily life activities due to pain, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, etc. This leads to depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental disorders. 

It is said that people with Fibromyalgia are three times more likely to have depression than others. Other symptoms of Fibromyalgia include muscle stiffness, restless leg syndromes, constipation, tingling and numbness in hands and feet, etc. 

What isn’t Fibromyalgia? 

Fibromyalgia is often confused with other medical conditions like arthritis. Fibromyalgia is not arthritis, though they show similar symptoms. Arthritis is caused by inflammation of your joints, causing pain, while Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain. 

Fibromyalgia also mimics other conditions and may be mistaken for chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, myofascial pain, etc. This explains why your doctor may require a differential diagnosis and tracking symptoms to narrow down the list and establish Fibromyalgia as the disease. This is still not a definitive test for the disease.

A final word 

There’s currently no cure for Fibromyalgia. However, it can be managed with medications (such as pain relief drugs, antidepressants, etc.), physical therapy, and other therapeutic strategies. Fibromyalgia may not be life-threatening, but it can alter the course of your life. You may have to switch jobs or even stop working.  Some lifestyle changes you might need to adapt to are; limiting your socialization, changing your diet, waking up quite early to deal with muscle stiffness, and giving up smoking.  

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