Fibromyalgia Risk Factors and Causes

Sex, age, and genetic predisposition are often considered factors in the development of fibromyalgia. However, it isn't yet entirely clear why.
Fibromyalgia Risk Factors and Causes

Written by Maite Córdova Vena, 15 July, 2021

Last update: 15 July, 2021

Since the World Health Organisation recognized it as a disease in 1992, fibromyalgia has become increasingly visible worldwide. However, the causes and risk factors of fibromyalgia remain an enigma.

Morning stiffness, general malaise, pain, a feeling of constant exhaustion, lack of energy, and other generalized discomfort, along with other non-specific and diffuse symptoms make it difficult to determine the origin of the disease.

While some people have noticed the symptoms as having come from specific moments in their life (after a period of intense stress, for example), others can’t tell exactly when they began to feel bad. Some even say that they’ve always felt this way.

And despite the fact that numerous investigations have been carried out, there’s still a lack of sufficiently clear information which would allow us to determine the origin of the disease. However, there is a consensus around a possible multifactorial origin, that is, the interaction of several internal and external factors.

The idea of a multifactorial origin is supported by the way in which fibromyalgia affects several systems of the body simultaneously, such as the nervous, immune and endocrine systems, as indicated in an article published in the journal Clínica y Salud en the year 2008.

Gender

Risk factors for fibromyalgia include gender
As with many rheumatological diseases, fibromyalgia is more common in women.

The American College of Rheumatology indicates that fibromyalgia affects between 2 and 4% of the general population. Of this percentage, they have observed that it tends to be more frequent in women than in men, although both can suffer from it.

Although the female gender is considered one of the risk factors for fibromyalgia, as indicated in several studies, the disease isn’t exclusive to middle-aged women, contrary to what people often believe.

Age

Again, taking into account what the American College of Rheumatology states, even though it can appear in adolescence or in the elderly, fibromyalgia does tend to be more frequent in middle-aged adults.

“The age range with most diagnoses is between 25 and 60 years old” explains the Fibromyalgia Association in Madrid (AFIBROM).

Genetics

Fibromyalgia could also appear as a consequence of a genetic predisposition, although experts consider that this wouldn’t be the only cause. Regarding this, a review article explains the following:

A genetic predisposition to developing fibromyalgia has been observed with an eight times greater probability in direct relatives of a patient with this pathology. In addition, in various studies, polymorphisms have been described in the catechol-omethyltransferase gene, thus showing a deficit in the degradation of catecholamines.”

Stress

Risk factors for fibromyalgia include stress
Emotional factors can play a fundamental role in the origin of fibromyalgia, although research isn’t very conclusive.

In 1984, Lazarus and Folkman postulated that stressful experiences, the person’s response to them, and resources to manage stress were factors that should be considered in fibromyalgia.

Since then, some mood disorders (like anxiety and depression) and high levels of stress have often been linked to the onset of fibromyalgia. However, there’s still no complete clarity around the idea of stress as being the main trigger.

Although it has been observed that anxiety, depression, stress, chronic fatigue syndrome and other health problems coexist with fibromyalgia, there’s no certainty that they could be part of its origin.

Keep in mind that fibromyalgia is a disorder that goes beyond the psychological and emotional sphere, as it also affects people physically.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, current research suggests that fibromyalgia isn’t an autoimmune disorder, nor is it a musculoskeletal, joint, or muscle problem. On the contrary, many people today consider that fibromyalgia could be a neurological disorder.

Other possible risk factors for fibromyalgia

In addition to the risk factors for fibromyalgia that we’ve already mentioned, experts believe that certain infections (Epstein Barr, parvovirus, and Lyme disease) and rheumatic diseases (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or ankylosing spondylitis) may increase the risk of fibromyalgia. Likewise, they also believe that the exacerbation could be mutual.

Although the origin of this chronic disease remains puzzling, science continues to investigate the risk factors for fibromyalgia in order to offer a better prognosis and treatment options.

The good news is that, even though its origin is mysterious and chronic, fibromyalgia can be treated. In this way, patients can learn to cope with symptoms and maintain a good quality of life.

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