The exact cause or causes of fibromyalgia remain a mystery to medical science. However, research has indicated several factors that are most likely involved.
Nervous System/Brain Chemistry
Studies have found that levels of several different chemicals important to brain and nervous system function are abnormal in people with fibromyalgia. These chemicals include:
- Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, and muscle contraction
- Tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to make serotonin
- Norepinephrine, a hormone that regulates the body’s reaction to stress
- Substance P, a protein involved in transmitting pain signals from the nerves to the brain
Preliminary research has shown that fibromyalgia can run in families. It is likely that there is an unidentified genetic abnormality that makes certain people more susceptible to fibromyalgia. However, it is also possible that families are exposed to environmental factors that trigger the onset of symptoms within these groups.
For many fibromyalgia patients, symptoms begin after emotional or physical trauma or a bout with an infectious disease. These do not likely cause fibromyalgia by themselves, but they are thought to trigger the onset of the disorder in people who are already susceptible to it.
Problems with getting enough sleep, or spending enough time in the deepest stages of sleep, are common in fibromyalgia. However, researchers are not sure if this is a symptom or a cause of the disorder. Improper sleep patterns can affect the levels of some of the brain chemicals listed above.