Fibromyalgia Causes and Risk Factors
Medical experts don’t know definitively what causes fibromyalgia, and the fact that the cause can’t be proven yet makes it difficult for those of us with the condition to be taken seriously. But there are some prominent theories out there that are worth looking at. Risk factors for fibro are not definitive either but are easier to identify. According to the World Health Organization, a risk factor is “any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or injury.”
Let’s dive into these and try to unpack some of the mystery!
I’m going to start with risk factors because fibromyalgia is thought to become expressed, or triggered, at some point in life for people already predisposed to it for one reason or another. It’s not a contagious disease like malaria that affects anyone exposed to the right germs. Certain risk factors make developing fibro much more likely.
The most general risk factor is being female. Some estimates show that up to 90% of the people with fibromyalgia are women.
A second risk factor is age. Fibro is most commonly diagnosed for people between the ages of 20 and 50.
Family history is important too. If your parents or grandparents have fibro, you are much more likely to develop the condition yourself.
Finally, if you have another disease that affects joints, muscles, or bones, you are much more likely to develop fibromyalgia. Some examples of these related conditions are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and lupus.
Ok, so now that we’ve discussed what puts you at heightened risk, let’s talk about some theories about the cause of fibromyalgia.
One of the main theories is that it arises as a result of changes in the way the nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body. Imbalances of certain chemicals could induce this nervous system malfunction. Your central nervous system – brain, spinal cord, and nerves – transmits information all throughout your body. This includes pain signals, and even the slightest exposure to pain could be magnified if neurochemicals are out of balance.
So which chemicals are the culprits here? The three biggest ones are serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. Fibro patients have abnormally low levels of these. Not only do they process pain messages sent by your nerves, they are critical for regulating sleep, appetite, mood, and behavior…so they affect basically everything about your health.
I said earlier that fibromyalgia can be triggered by a traumatic event. But what might precede that is a genetic predisposition to it. Without a trigger, you might go through life never developing fibro, even if your genetics make you susceptible. So in a way, poor genetics could be considered the cause of the condition – or at least a prerequisite in some cases.
The last major theory for what causes fibromyalgia has to do with it being triggered by a stressful or traumatic event. This trigger can be physical trauma or emotional trauma. Some examples include:
- A major injury like a car accident
- a viral infection like mono
- giving birth
- having an operation
- the breakdown of a relationship
- the death of a loved one
However, sometimes fibro isn’t triggered by any one obvious event, but rather develops slowly over time.
We hope that this gave you a better sense of the causes and risk factors that can lead to fibromyalgia. There are still a lot of unknowns, but medical researchers are continuing to discover more and more with each passing year. If any part of our understanding changes, or a new theory is gaining traction, we’ll be sure to cover it here at Fibro Pulse.