Fibromyalgia remains a medical mystery. It seems like every day we’re learning more and more about the condition. But there are many more things that we just don’t know. Why is it that fibromyalgia causes people to experience weird symptoms like itching, or frequent urination? How is it that fibromyalgia causes so much pain to people who suffer from it? And most importantly, what causes fibromyalgia in the first place?
We don’t have many hard facts about these questions. But there are a lot of theories that have been proposed to explain some possible fibromyalgia causes. Some are more convincing than others, but understanding some of the things that might lead to fibromyalgia can help us understand the condition better. So here are some of the best theories about fibromyalgia.
Microglia are a special kind of immune cell that can pass directly through the barrier from your blood into the brain. Doctors have been studying microglia for a long time because of the role they’re known to play in degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s. The theory is that microglia begin attacking the brain itself, which causes inflammation and the destruction of brain cells that lead to Alzheimer’s.
But, the same mechanism may actually be one of the most significant fibromyalgia causes. At least, that’s the theory that Dr. Jared Younger, from the University of Alabama, has proposed. While studying patients with fibromyalgia, he discovered something important. Their levels of leptin, a hormone found in the blood, were significantly higher than normal. Not only that, but he could actually predict the severity of their fibromyalgia symptoms based on their levels of leptin.
Younger proposed a theory that the leptin in fibromyalgia patients is triggering the microglia in the brain. And since microglia are a key part of the body’s immune response, the fatigue and muscle pains that normally come with that immune response are triggered as well. So in this theory, fibromyalgia is a prolonged immune response caused by the activation of microglia in the brain. It’s an interesting theory that can explain a lot of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. And the fact that it fingers the immune system as a source of potential fibromyalgia causes is right in line with a number of other theories.
The idea that the immune system is involved in fibromyalgia is key to a lot of theories about fibromyalgia causes. One of the most interesting ones is that fibromyalgia is actually an autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune diseases are caused by your immune system beginning to attack your own body instead of foreign bacteria and viruses. And many autoimmune diseases cause symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of fibromyalgia, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which both cause joint pain and fatigue.
Another sign that fibromyalgia may be an autoimmune disease is that people with fibromyalgia often have these sorts of autoimmune diseases as well, at a higher proportion than the rest of the population. Because autoimmune diseases often go together, this could be evidence that fibromyalgia is caused by an autoimmune disorder.
But there are some problems with this theory. You see, in most autoimmune diseases, patients have an elevated level of immune cells in the blood. That’s because their immune system is out of balance, producing extra immune cells that attack the body. But people with fibromyalgia don’t have consistently higher levels of these immune cells the way that people with lupus do. So, despite the extremely similar symptoms, the evidence suggests that this common theory that fibromyalgia causes lay in autoimmune disease is probably not correct.
Another condition that seems to affect people with fibromyalgia at a higher level than the general population is something called small fiber peripheral neuropathy (or SFPN). About half of fibromyalgia patients in one study tested positive for the condition, which is caused by damage to the small nerves in the skin.
SFPN doesn’t by itself produce all the symptoms of fibromyalgia, but the fact that it’s found so frequently in people with fibromyalgia suggests that nerve disorders might be one of the most significant fibromyalgia causes. Central nervous system sensitization is a condition where the connection between the nerves and brain become damaged. Because the brain plays an important role in interpreting pain signals, this leads to widespread pain throughout the body.
The problem with ascribing fibromyalgia to nerve damage is that while people with fibromyalgia often have the symptoms of nerve disorders (and vice versa), it’s not universal. Not everyone with fibromyalgia seems to have nerve damage. This doesn’t rule out the possibility that it’s one of the central fibromyalgia causes. It could be that our procedures for testing for the disorders just aren’t precise enough. But at the moment, this is one theory that should be taken with a grain of salt.
Until we know more about what causes fibromyalgia or even why it causes the symptoms it does, getting to the bottom of the question of fibromyalgia is still beyond our grasp.
But what do you think? Do you have a theory about fibromyalgia causes? Let us know in the comments.