Fibromyalgia Causes: Current Ideas

Fibromyalgia Causes: Current IdeasPin
Fibromyalgia Causes: Current Ideas

Intro To Fibromyalgia Causes

The causes of fibromyalgia are not known. This post discusses the current ideas of what the cause/s might be. First off, fibro is a chronic pain condition affecting “an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. and an estimated 3-6% of the world population. Women, men, and children can get fibromyalgia, though women account for 75% to 90% of cases.” National Fibromyalgia Association.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.” Symptoms can vary from person to person and from day to day. The following symptoms are present in fibromyalgia:

  • Widespread body pain that affects both sides of your body, including above-the-waist, and below-the-waist pain. To be diagnosed as fibro, the pain needs to have been present for at least three months.
  • Fatigue that occurs even after many hours of sleep. Sleep is often interrupted by pain.
  • Difficulty thinking clearly. For example, forgetting words, having trouble understanding what you’re reading, or remembering where you put something.
  • Other medical conditions can exist with it. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraine and other headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), sleep disorders, restless leg syndrome, painful bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis), anxiety/depression, and/or postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS).

Below are the five main areas that researchers are studying for what causes fibro.

So What Causes Fibromyalgia?

1. Pain Processing Malfunction in the Brain

Researchers are slowly learning more about this disease. When they first started studying it, they focused on the muscles as the source of the problem. According to Dr. Benjamin Abraham, researchers now believe that fibro is a pain processing malfunction. He says:

People with a fibromyalgia diagnosis seem to have a pain-sensing system that’s out of whack. They have a bigger-than-normal reaction to painful sensations. And they often feel pain in response to sensations (like heat or cold) that other people don’t find painful at all.

The alteration in processing pain signals, appears to be the result of inflammation of the nerves in the brain, called neuroinflammation. Not only are the nerves irritated, but also other changes in the brain have been discovered. Some parts of the brain are smaller than normal, and communication between different parts of the brain is slower. Dr. Abraham thinks that there isn’t a single cause for this disease.

2. Genetics

Researchers have also noticed that fibro can run in families. For example, between siblings, or between mother and children. According to Dr. Brindusa Vanta:

Recent studies have found genetics can make some people predisposed, or more susceptible, to developing fibromyalgia. A person predisposed to fibromyalgia won’t necessarily develop the condition, but is more likely to, especially if they are exposed to environmental stressors like trauma and injury. The genetic component of fibromyalgia is supported by the fact that it is often prevalent within families (i.e. if you have a relative with this condition, you are more likely to develop it).”

The genetic variations found by geneticists in people with fibro, are not specific for fibromyalgia. These changes can also be found in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Geneticists do not know how these gene changes are passed down in families.

3. Infections

Next, some fibro patients noticed that they had an infection of some sort, and then developed their symptoms of widespread pain, fatigue, and brain fog. Doctors and researchers do not know how these infections can lead to fibro symptoms. According to Dr. Mark J Pellegrino, some of the germs linked to fibro are:

  • Epstein-Barr virus which causes mono
  • Cytomegalovirus, an infection similar to mono
  • Some influenza strains (Flu)
  • Adenoviruses, Type 11. Causes colds, bronchitis, and other respiratory infections.
  • Human Herpes virus 6
  • AIDS virus
  • Hepatitis virus
  • Listeria bacteria
  • Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria
  • Candida yeast
  • Giardia parasite

4. Traumatic Events & Stress

In other people, their symptoms came after a trauma or accident. Severe car crashes, being assaulted, going through a disaster situation, or fighting in a war zone are all events that have been linked to fibro. Many people with a history of mental, physical, or sexual abuse report developing chronic illness later in life.

We cannot say these events cause fibro, because not every person who suffers severe trauma develps it. However, researchers believe these traumatic events are extremely stressful. The stress of traumatic events can lead to PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD can also be a chronic condition.

In young children, stress can alter the way their brains develop. For example, in this study of babies born prematurely, infants who needed to stay in intensive care units appear to be less sensitive to pain and heat as they become teens. However, if they get injured as an adult, they became over-sensitive to heat, pain, and pressure. You can read this study here: Early Life Adversity as a Risk Factor for Fibromyalgia in Later Life. This seems to suggest that early painful experiences can make later ones more painful.

What the researchers can agree on, is that traumatic events lead to increased stress, which can predispose us to developing fibromyalgia. According to Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity,

“Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function. These changes are connected with high cortisol levels in the body.”

Psychology Today

The good news is that these changes are not permanent! Our brains are able to return to normal function as we learn how to manage stress better, and heal from traumas.

5. Immune Dysfunctions

Lastly, some doctors believe that the cause of fibromyalgia is more likely to be with the immune system, instead of in the brain. According to Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD, there are studies that show a link between autoimmune disorders and fibro. Autoimmune diseases happen when the body starts to attack itself.

Part of the reason doctors believe that fibro may have an autoimmune cause, is because many people with diseases caused by autoimmune problems also have fibro. For example, 65% of people with systemic lupus have fibromyalgia symptoms. Also, “57% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 24% of those with psoriatic arthritis have… fibromyalgia.”

Researchers also know that chronic stress can impair the immune system. For more info on this topic, click here: What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out?

Want more indepth information on the immune research? Read this article: Fibromyalgia: Is It an Autoimmune Disease?

Wrap-up Of Fibromyalgia Causes

In conclusion, no one knows for sure what causes this condition. In my opinion, the human body is very complex. So, the causes of fibromyalgia are just as difficult to untangle. I know that this is not what we want to hear. We all want a cause and an easy cure. Finally, if you need ideas for managing your pain check out these posts.

What do you think caused your fibro?

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By Kathryn

I'm a writer, disabled registered nurse, and former home school parent of 6 children ages 19 to 32. I'm also a domestic abuse survivor.


  1. I don’t always pay attention to fibro research, since we don’t have it at our house, but I was interested to read this. You’ve done a great job of summarizing and compiling some complex info here – thanks!


    Live with ME/CFS

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