Even though fibromyalgia affects millions of people, doctors and researchers don’t know exactly what causes the condition and why certain people get it while others don’t. Research about this condition does offer some clues, however, and doctors hope that by learning more about fibromyalgia it will improve diagnosis and treatment.
Current theories surrounding fibromyalgia suspect that the condition could be caused by some sort of dysfunction or changes in the pain pathways within the central nervous system (CNS). Many health experts say that people with fibromyalgia have the “volume turned up” in the part of their nervous system that perceives pain. Not only does this increase their experience of pain but can also lower their threshold for pain, or pain tolerance.
Hormones and Neurotransmitters
Researchers also have found that people with fibromyalgia tend to have lower levels of certain hormones and neurotransmitters in their brains compared to other people, including serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. It’s not clear if this is a cause or an effect of fibromyalgia, but it could explain many of the symptoms associated with the condition.
There may also be a genetic component to fibromyalgia, since the condition often runs in families. This fact means it may be possible to inherit certain genes that predispose a person to this chronic health condition.
Possible risk factors for fibromyalgia include:
- Advancing age (most people with fibromyalgia are diagnosed in adulthood, and as many as 8 percent of people over age 80 meet diagnostic criteria for the condition, although children can be affected, too)
- Autoimmune disorders (for example, people with RA or systemic lupus erythematosus seem to be more likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia)
- High levels of emotional stress and/or a history of emotional/physical trauma
- Female gender (about 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia are cisgender women)
- Illness or injury, especially repetitive injuries