Investigators are constantly looking at various explanations for the
occurrence of fibromyalgia. Some, for example,
are exploring hormonal disturbances and chemical imbalances that affect nerve
signaling. Other experts believe fibromyalgia with its deep muscle pain is linked to stress, illness, or trauma.
Still others think there is a hereditary cause or say there is no explanation
at all. But while there is no clear consensus about what causes fibromyalgia,
most researchers believe fibromyalgia results not from a single event but from
a combination of many physical and emotional stressors.
Other Theories About Causes of Fibromyalgia
Some have speculated that lower levels of a brain neurotransmitter called
serotonin leads to lowered pain thresholds or an increased sensitivity to pain.
It's associated with a calming, anxiety-reducing reaction. The
lowered pain thresholds in fibromyalgia patients may be caused by the reduced
effectiveness of the body's natural endorphin painkillers and the increased
presence of a chemical called "substance P." Substance P amplifies pain
There have been some studies that link fibromyalgia to sudden trauma to the
brain and spinal cord. Keep in mind, though, theories about what causes
fibromyalgia are merely speculative.
Who Gets Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is far more common in women than in men. Some interesting
studies show that women have approximately seven times less serotonin in the
brain. That may explain why fibromyalgia syndrome, or FMS, is more common in
Another theory states that fibromyalgia is caused by biochemical changes in
the body and may be related to hormonal changes or menopause. In addition, some
(but not all) people with fibromyalgia have low levels of human growth hormone, which may
contribute to the muscle pain.
Does Stress Cause Fibromyalgia?
Some researchers theorize that stress or poor physical conditioning are
factors in the cause of fibromyalgia. Another theory suggests that muscle
"microtrauma" (very slight damage) leads to an ongoing cycle of pain and fatigue. This mechanism, like
all the others, is still unproven for fibromyalgia.
Do Insomnia or Sleep Disorders Cause Fibromyalgia?
Most people with fibromyalgia experience insomnia or non-restorative
sleep -- sleep that is light and not refreshing. Disordered sleep might lead to
lower levels of serotonin, which results in increased pain sensitivity.
Researchers have created a lower pain threshold in women by depriving them of
sleep, possibly simulating fibromyalgia.
Is Depression Linked to Fibromyalgia?
Some scientists used to believe that because fibromyalgia was accompanied by
low-grade depression, there may be a link
between the two illnesses. Today, mental health issues are no
longer thought to cause fibromyalgia. However, chronic pain can cause feelings
of anxiety and depression, which may worsen fibromyalgia symptoms.
Is Fibromyalgia Hereditary?
Like other rheumatic diseases, fibromyalgia could be the result of a genetic
tendency that's passed from mother to daughter. Some researchers believe that a
person's genes may regulate the way his or her body processes painful stimuli.
These scientists theorize that people with fibromyalgia may have a gene or
genes that cause them to react intensely to stimuli that most people would not
perceive as painful. To date, these genes have not been isolated or
It's thought that when a person with this genetic tendency is exposed to
certain emotional or physical stressors -- such as a traumatic crisis or a
serious illness -- there is a change in the body's response to stress. This
change can result in a higher sensitivity of the entire body to pain.