Fibromyalgia is a condition that is not well understood by either the people who have it or the doctors who treat it. Its’ symptoms range from mere nuisance discomfort to debilitating daily pain and fatigue.

Fibromyalgia’s daily aches and pains

Fibromyalgia is a medical disorder that involves musculoskeletal pain that is widespread through the body. It is often accompanied by fatigue, sleep disorder, memory problems, and mood disorders. People who have fibromyalgia hurt all over even when they are not sick or have sustained an injury, and the pain never completely goes away.

Their extreme (and often debilitating) pain can come from minor bumps and bruises that would not usually bother a person without fibromyalgia. Or the pain can simply originate on its own when a fibromyalgia sufferer gets too little sleep. For people with this condition, it is as if their pain volume is always turned up, much like a radio whose volume is at the max.

Another hallmark of the condition is what is commonly referred to as “fibro fog,” cognitive impairment that makes focusing, paying attention, and concentrating very difficult. Disorders that often coexist with fibromyalgia include temporomandibular joint problems (a disorder of the jaw muscles and nerves), headaches (including migraines), bladder issues, and irritable bowel syndrome.

What is known about the causes of fibromyalgia

In people with fibromyalgia, it is theorized that there are simply more nerve cells that transmit pain signals. It is also thought that fibromyalgia sufferers have fewer cells that impede their awareness of pain. This makes them more aware of pain.

As to how these overworked pain-transmitting nerve cells developed, there are several theories that have evolved from the evaluation of commonalities in patients’ histories. These theories suggest why some people’s pain signals go awry and others’ do not.

Fibromyalgia, which according to the NFA (National Fibromyalgia Association) affects over 10 million people just in the US, has become one of the most common causes of  chronic pain in the world.

While the exact causes of fibromyalgia are still shrouded in mystery, research has identified several factors that may be involved:

  • Genetic predisposition – fibromyalgia appears to be prevalent in certain families, as does the tendency toward anxiousness and depression, which can cause pain to feel worse.
  • Diseases – arthritis or infections can initiate the onset of fibromyalgia.
  • Childhood abuse – emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in children changes the way their brains handle pain and stress. People who were abused as children have a much higher incidence of fibromyalgia.

Researchers have found that the brain’s hippocampus is significantly changed in fibromyalgia patients who were abused as children. The stress from childhood abuse causes the hippocampus to be flooded with the stress hormone, cortisol. Researchers theorize that this extended stress alters the area of the brain responsible for pain reception.

Additionally, a sensitization theory that examines the reduced threshold for pain in fibromyalgia sufferers says that the excessive nerve stimulation that occurs with childhood abuse results in all sensations being reported to the brain as pain.

  • Gender appears to be a factor in fibromyalgia as the condition seems to be more common in women than in men.
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can also be an initiating factor in fibromyalgia. Terrible events like rape, war, car crashes, and shootings like the ones in Las Vegas recently can also cause fibromyalgia to erupt.

Is fibromyalgia a new disease?

At one time fibromyalgia was considered a mental disorder. Doctors in the early 1800s called its’ symptoms of aching, stiffness, muscular pain, sleep disorder and tiredness “muscular rheumatism.” A Scottish doctor in the 1820’s first charted the tender or trigger points of fibromyalgia. Later called “fibrositis,” the term fibromyalgia came into use in 1976. Whatever the label is that is used to name it, for fibromyalgia sufferers, the pain remains the same, real and unrelenting.

Next month: Treating Fibromyalgia