Behind the Pathophysiology of Fibromyalgia

Diseases and other physical conditions possess their own individual changes and physiological processes. Due to this, doctors and medical researchers study the pathophysiology of these conditions.

Pathophysiology is a term describing the physiological processes linked to injury or diseases. In other words, it describes any functional changes associated with injuries or diseases.

The term more or less combines these other widely used medical terms:

  • Pathology, a medical discipline describing conditions that are observed as a disease state
  • Physiology, the biological discipline describing mechanisms or processes that operate within an organism.

As a singular term, pathophysiology is used to explain the physiological processes associated with the development of a condition or disease. Doctors and medical researchers use pathophysiology to study how injuries and diseases affect people, especially when they study a single disease or injury.

Fibromyalgia is a common subject of pathophysiology studies, since the condition itself is shrouded in mystery regarding its origin or, rather, cause.

The main issue that makes fibromyalgia complex is the fact that people with this disorder often show hyper-sensitivity to various painful and non-painful ‘sources of stimulation,’ while also exhibiting an altered physiological response to painful stimulation via the spinal cord.

While there are various studies about fibromyalgia, many medical resources don’t yet understand how the mechanisms behind the condition actually affect the body. What they do understand is that the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia can help them find out ways to organize factors that will help recognize how the condition manifests in people. In this article, we’re going to review the known pathophysiology of fibromyalgia.

Pathophysiology of Fibromyalgia

The pathophysiology of fibromyalgia: about fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a condition commonly characterized by its widespread bodily pain, fatigue, sleep problems, cognitive dysfunction and depression symptoms.

Fibromyalgia affects millions around the world. It’s said to affect as much as ‘1 in 20 people worldwide.’ In the United States alone, as much as 10 percent of the general population are affected by fibromyalgia. The condition affects both men and women, but women are ‘7 times more likely to develop’ over men.

This condition commonly affects people between the ages of 30 and 60. It might also develop in children and elderly people.  The exact cause behind fibromyalgia isn’t known. Interestingly enough, immune system disturbances, hormonal changes and the impairment of the body’s pain pathways have been found to play a role in affecting patients with the condition.

Even though fibromyalgia seems like a physical disorder, the dysfunction of the brain’s chemical (neurotransmitters) function also seem to play a large role in the development of the condition. This more or less suggests a multifaceted ’cause’ behind the condition, however medical researchers and doctors are still learning why that may be the case after all.

Fibromyalgia is considered a part of a family of disorders known as affective spectrum disorders or ASD. This family of disorders includes major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, irritable bowel syndrome attention-deficit or hyperactivity disorder and migraines.

The pathophysiology of fibromyalgia actually reveals that fibromyalgia shares some characteristics, pathologies and manifestations associated with other affective spectrum disorders. The pathophysiology of fibromyalgia includes several aspects that it shares with other conditions, such as:

  • Environmental triggers
  • Psychosocial factors
  • Genetic factors
  • Neuro-endocrine issues
  • Problems with the autonomic nervous system

In the following section, we’re going to take a look at several aspects associated with the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia and other conditions.

The pathophysiology of fibromyalgia: the aspects

Behind every condition or disease, there are several aspects that influence its development. That’s something that the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia has revealed to researchers over the years.

Environmental causes

Fibromyalgia actually has several environmental causes that might influence the development of the condition. Several of those causes may include physical trauma, injury, psychosocial stress, abuse and emotional trauma.

The pathophysiology of fibromyalgia has also revealed that fibromyalgia shares common symptoms with other conditions that often develop in people with fibromyalgia. Major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and depression are common disorders present in people with fibromyalgia.

Genetic factors

Several genetic factors play a role in the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia, in addition to conditions associated with the disorder. One study revealed that the frequency of fibromyalgia in patients with first relatives who had fibromyalgia genetic makeup was about 6.4 percent. The average number of ‘tender points’ among those relatives was 17 out of the 18 points tested at the time. The serotonin transporter gene (5-HTT) is said to play a role in enhanced pain sensitivity.

Problems with the autonomic nervous system

People with fibromyalgia often experience issues with their autonomic nervous system. It causes increased pain and significantly impairs the body’s ability to manage stress. The condition may also cause decreases in blood pressure, in addition to decreased pain inhibition, since it stops the body from producing normal levels of growth hormone and growth factor.

Neuro-endocrine issues and sleep problems

Psychological stress and fibromyalgia share a lot of symptoms. Fibromyalgia is also associated with the body’s inability to suppress cortisol, the body’s stress hormone.

People with fibromyalgia also experience problems with sleep. Even though studies haven’t found whether sleep problems cause the condition, there’s a clear association between the two.

People with the condition often report cases of insomnia, early morning awakening and poor sleeping habits.

Problems with pain sensitivity

People with fibromyalgia often report an increased sensitivity to any type of pain sensation. They are characteristically ‘more sensitive’ to hot and cold sensations and may experience bodily pressure from a lack of blood flow.

On an interesting note, the abnormal levels of norepinephrine and serotonin (neurotransmitters of the brain) are said to have some influence behind increased pain sensitivity. The disruption of signals within the brain may contribute to causing the characteristic increased pain sensitivity in patients with this condition.

Closing thoughts

The pathophysiology of fibromyalgia helps both doctors and medical researchers learn more about the chronic condition. Since various conditions share factors that relate to the development of fibromyalgia, it’s important to understand the relationship between fibromyalgia and other conditions that often co-exist with it.

Understanding the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia will ultimately help doctors and researchers develop new treatment options for fibromyalgia, too.