The exact cause of fibromyalgia is still undetermined; however, research suggests that a combination of physical, neurological and psychological factors can lead to the onset of this illness. Your emotions and moods can affect the pain you feel, and being depressed or anxious can further compound it. Here are some factors1 that may lead to fibromyalgia:
One of the potential causes of fibromyalgia is how your body processes pain. People with fibromyalgia process pain differently, as their levels of substance P, a chemical found in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that is responsible for transmitting pain impulses to the brain, are significantly higher — at least three times more compared to people without fibromyalgia.
Having higher levels of substance P makes the pain more intense.2 Research also found that having low levels of the hormones noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine in the brain is common among fibromyalgia sufferers. These hormones are essential in regulating mood, appetite, sleep, behavior and stress response. Changes in the levels of stress hormones like cortisol may contribute to fibromyalgia, too.
A combination of inherited genetic mutations may play a role in developing fibromyalgia, which is why people who have a close relative (a sibling or a parent) who had this illness are at a higher risk of acquiring it, compared to people who have no relatives diagnosed with this disease.
Having disturbed sleep patterns or lacking deep sleep may be a cause of fibromyalgia, and not just a symptom. It is in stage 4 sleep when the body refreshes itself, allowing the muscles to recover from the day's activity. According to studies, people with fibromyalgia become more aroused when they enter stage 4 sleep, resulting in a lighter form of sleep. When researchers took volunteers and stopped them from entering stage 4 sleep, symptoms similar to fibromyalgia manifested as well.3
Other Possible Triggers
Some physical conditions may exacerbate your risk of fibromyalgia. These include getting an injury (or repetitive injuries), a viral infection, surgery or giving birth. Emotional or stressful events, such as losing a loved one, being in an accident or being physically abused (leading to post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) and relationship problems (breaking up with your significant other) may also put you in danger of fibromyalgia.
Painful rheumatic conditions that affect the muscles, joints or bones can put you in danger of fibromyalgia. These include: