If someone in your family, such as a parent, has fibromyalgia, you may have concern that you will also “inherit” this condition. But how great is the hereditary risk? Is fibromyalgia genetic at all?
While there is still much to find out about fibromyalgia, many health experts believe there is a link between genes and fibromyalgia. This is because it’s believed that fibromyalgia is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, as well as abnormalities in the neuroendocrine and nervous systems.1
Fibromyalgia Can ‘Cluster’ in Families
Dr. Kevin C. Fleming, who specializes in internal medicine, said in a Mayo Clinic article that although fibromyalgia isn’t directly passed on from parents to children, the disorder does appear to cluster within families. “The odds of developing fibromyalgia are several times higher in the immediate families of people with fibromyalgia than in families in which no one has fibromyalgia,” he said.2
Fleming added that a number of genes, particularly those that affect how your nervous system responds to pain, may help explain why fibromyalgia (as well as other disorders) seem to run in families. There is no mutation that is responsible for a specific trait (monogenic). Rather, the risk is complex and involves many genes (polygenic).3
Studies Present Evidence on the Link Between Fibromyalgia and Genetics
A 1989 study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that 52 percent of people who have siblings and parents with fibromyalgia had characteristic symptoms and other findings of this condition, but have not been diagnosed with it. Meanwhile, 22 percent had evidence of abnormal muscle consistency, although they did not have any fibromyalgia symptoms.4
A study in 2004 also presented proof that fibromyalgia had a genetic link. The study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Cincinnati and published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism,5 found that relatives of people with fibromyalgia were eight times more likely to develop the syndrome compared to those who didn’t have any family connection. And, even if they did not develop the illness, the study found that the relatives tend to suffer more pain compared to the average person.
A 2017 Korean study further explores this link, as researchers found that “certain polymorphisms in genes involved in the serotonergic, dopaminergic and catecholaminergic pathways may be involved in FM [fibromyalgia] development.” They claim that these polymorphisms affect not just a person’s susceptibility but also the severity of the symptoms.6 Nevertheless, more research is still needed to fully cement these claims.