About 5 million Americans, most of whom are women, live with fibromyalgia. And while the root causes of the disorder haven’t yet been clearly identified, research has turned up some differences in how people with fibromyalgia experience pain — which may help to shed light on who is more likely to develop it.
Fibromyalgia symptoms are rooted in a dysfunction in the way pain is processed in the brain. “Fibromyalgia patients have been shown to have lower levels of brain chemicals that inhibit pain signals, including serotonin and norepinephrine, as well as higher levels of brain chemicals that cause pain signals, including substance P and glutamate,” explains rheumatologist Chad S. Boomershine, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the division of rheumatology and immunology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. These chemical imbalances may explain why people with fibromyalgia find changes in temperature, light, and pressure on their skin painful while others do not.
Another avenue of exploration is the impaired stress response that appears to characterize fibromyalgia. Researchers are looking at the ways in which the stress hormone cortisol is processed differently by people with fibromyalgia, as well as other health factors, such as difficulty regulating blood pressure.
Fibromyalgia can occur along with many other conditions. This makes it hard to get a final diagnosis and can also confuse patients about whether one condition causes the other, or whether both are related to an overlapping symptom, such as disturbed sleep.
Related: What to Ask Your Doctor About Fibromyalgia
The conditions that commonly co-occur with fibromyalgia include:
- Mood disorders, such as major depression
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Temporomandibular joint disorder
If you have one or more of these conditions, researchers know you are at increased risk for developing fibromyalgia, although the chemical relationships are not yet fully understood.
Risks and Causes of Fibromyalgia
For many people, fibromyalgia happens as a consequence of a perfect storm of factors that come together. There is no known single cause of fibromyalgia. Risk factors for developing fibromyalgia symptoms include:
- Genes. Researchers have long observed that fibromyalgia tends to run in families. Recent research has confirmed a genetic risk. “These genetic differences affect the normal regulation of pain signaling in the brain and are thought to account for the variability in pain sensitivity seen in the general population,” says Dr. Boomershine. People at the extreme end of this variability are more sensitive to environmental stimuli than others, which may be one of the causes of fibromyalgia.
- Gender. Women are much more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia (nearly 90 percent of fibromyalgia patients are women), although the exact reason for this gender difference has not been fully established.
- Age. There is a slightly increasing risk of being diagnosed with fibromyalgia as you get older. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. Between 3 and 6 percent of the general population worldwide is thought to have fibromyalgia, but close to 8 percent of those who are 80 years old have the condition.
- Trauma. Intense emotional or physical trauma can put you at risk for developing fibromyalgia, especially if you already have a genetic predisposition toward it.
- Disturbed sleep. People with fibromyalgia often have problems sleeping well. These sleep problems may contribute to the fatigue and fibromyalgia pain they experience. Disturbed sleep and chronic pain can become a vicious cycle, each making the other worse.
- Physical stress. Repeated, difficult physical motions such as those performed at jobs involving manual labor put you at risk for developingchronic pain and fibromyalgia symptoms. Working in the heat, squatting for long periods (over 15 minutes), and pulling very heavy weights top the list of possible triggers.
- Emotional or social stress. If you are in a situation where you do not feel supported by co-workers or your work is monotonous, you are at increased risk for developing widespread pain, such as fibromyalgia pain. Research also shows that people who have a generally negative mood tend to experience worse pain.
Related: Foods That Ease Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Research is ongoing into many of these risk factors and potential causes of fibromyalgia symptoms. As we gain a better understanding of the complex way that the body responds to stress and processes pain, patients with fibromyalgia may also have access to better treatments and, perhaps, prevention
source : http://www.everydayhealth.com/fibromyalgia/are-you-at-risk.aspx