Pain is often distressing and devitalizing and can be associated with several health disorders. If you’ve recently been experiencing widespread chronic pain, you might have fibromyalgia. But, is fibromyalgia an autoimmune disease?
According to many studies, fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease, but it weakens the immune system.
If you have fibromyalgia, you are not alone, the condition is common across the world and, while there is no known cure, it can be managed.
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What is an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune disease is when the immune system attacks the body rather than protecting it. It is still not clear why the immune system does this.
Many autoimmune disease triggers are also present in fibromyalgia. Like many fibromyalgia symptoms, autoimmune disease affects various tissues and organs in your body.
An autoimmune disease can trigger several symptoms, including pain, tiredness, rashes, nausea, headaches, dizziness, etc.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a health condition often characterized by widespread chronic pain all over the body. There are different types of fibromyalgia pain but this is often affecting tissues and muscles, leading to chronic pain and tenderness.
According to recent CDC statistics, fibromyalgia affects nearly 4 million adults in the US and about 6 percent of the world’s population. This proves how serious the condition is. Recent studies show that women are more vulnerable to fibromyalgia than men.
Fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease
The scientific knowledge regarding fibromyalgia had come a long way from the days when fibromyalgia was considered a “virtual disease”. Remarkable steps towards understating fibromyalgia have been made in the last decade.
Fibromyalgia has numerous symptoms in common with autoimmune conditions. In fact, many people believe that it’s an autoimmune disease. While fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease, the two conditions have some similar symptoms.
Since fibromyalgia was once considered an arthritis-related condition, and various arthritis-related conditions are autoimmune diseases, many people grouped fibromyalgia into this category. However, the assumptions have pointed in different directions.
However, we cannot 100% say that the condition isn’t autoimmune, because there are still ongoing research studies.
For example, a recent study claims that fibromyalgia may be an autoimmune disease. However, this single study on animals is not enough, because on the other side we have decades of research showing that fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease.
Future studies will for sure be able to clear any remaining doubts about the nature of fibromyalgia and give a definitive answer on whether it is an autoimmune disease or not.
Why fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease?
According to various studies, the immune system in fibromyalgia tends to have some irregularities. More in detail, the immune system appears to be chronically overactive.
As such, many people believe that the condition is autoimmune.
However, autoimmunity is a process where the immune system destroys body tissues. The process leads to damage and inflammation at the site. This doesn’t seem to be the case for fibromyalgia.
For example, this study shows that fibromyalgia may be linked to neuropathy, which is causing thin nerve fibers.
While fibromyalgia patients present damages to some nerve structures, this is not proof of an autoimmune origin of the disease.
Fibromyalgia weakens the immune system
Although there is ongoing research and studies, recent reports show that fibromyalgia indeed weakens the immune system.
According to various studies, fibromyalgia patients are said to have a high number of white blood cells and cytokines, which can be observed when the patient is suffering from infections. This is another proof that the condition affects the immune system.
Additionally, other studies show that fibromyalgia weakens the brain’s immune system. The condition reduces the blood flow in the brain’s pain center, thus affecting the neuron receptors. The process increases pain and stress levels and weakens the immune system responsible for fighting bacteria.
Further studies show that various fibromyalgia symptoms such as fatigue, appetite loss, and lack of sleep may affect the immune system function.
Fibromyalgia can lead to lower production of cortisol hormone, leading to a high level of estrogen hormone in the body. A high amount of estrogen in the body reduces the amount of progestin. As per recent studies, this hormone fluctuation can weaken the immune system.
Factors that contribute to fibromyalgia conditions
It is still unclear why some people develop fibromyalgia. However, various factors are involved. The following are the main factors believed to contribute to the condition:
Atypical pain messages
Fibromyalgia patients are believed to develop changes in how the central nervous system processes the pain messages moving around the body. This could be due to the chemical changes in the nervous system.
The central nervous system is responsible for transmitting information all over the body through numerous specialized cells. Changes in this system functioning can explain why fibromyalgia leads to a constant feeling of too much sensitivity and pain.
According to various research, fibromyalgia patients have an unusually low level of serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine hormones in their brains.
The deficiency of these hormones can be one of the major factors leading to fibromyalgia. That’s because they’re responsible for regulating mood, appetite, sleep, behavior, and response to stressful conditions.
Additionally, these hormones help process pain messages sent by the nerves. Using medication to increase the hormone level can interfere with these signals.
Also, according to some experts, fluctuations in the level of various hormones may lead to fibromyalgia.
Sleep patterns may also lead to fibromyalgia rather than being just a symptom. Fibromyalgia prevents deep sleep, leading to extreme tiredness.
Individuals experiencing poor sleep can suffer extreme pain, showing that these sleep disorders can trigger other fibromyalgia symptoms.
Weighted blankets for fibromyalgia are one of the best natural remedies to improve sleep, reduce pain and relieve stress and anxiety. These blankets can help to solve sleep disorders and alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
According to recent reports, Genetics can slightly contribute to fibromyalgia. Some people are more likely to develop the condition than others due to their genes. In this instance, genetics can explain why some people develop fibromyalgia after various triggers.
Fibromyalgia can often be triggered by a stressful situation, such as physical and emotional stress. The following are the possible triggers:
- Viral infections
- Undergoing a surgery
- Relationship breakdown
- Abusive relationship
- Losing a loved one
However, in some instances, the condition develops without an obvious trigger.
There are numerous other conditions linked with fibromyalgia. And the conditions are rheumatic as they’re shown to affect the joints, muscles, and bones. These conditions include:
- Osteoarthritis – when joint damages lead to pain and stiffness
- Lupus – when the immune system attacks cells and tissues in different body parts.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – is when the immune system attacks joint tissues and cells, leading to pain and swelling.
- Ankylosing spondylitis – pain and swelling within the spine
- Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) – a condition leading to pain in the jaw, cheeks, ears, and temples.
These conditions are often tested for during fibromyalgia diagnosis.
If you suspect yourself to be a victim, visit the relevant GP. Diagnosing the condition can be challenging as there is not a straightforward test for diagnosis.
The symptoms often vary and are similar. During the process, you’ll need to state how various fibromyalgia symptoms affect your daily life.
Additionally, your body will undergo an examination to check other visible signs. For instance, a swollen joint can mean arthritis rather than fibromyalgia.
Certain criteria must be met to diagnose fibromyalgia. The commonly used criteria include:
- You either experience pain in 3 to 6 different parts of the body. Or you are experiencing milder pain in 7 or more different body parts.
- The symptoms have been at the same level for at least three months
- There is no other reason found for the symptom
Finally, fibromyalgia can also be accompanied by other conditions, including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
The relationship between fibromyalgia and autoimmune disease has not been demonstrated yet.
While fibromyalgia at the moment is not considered to be an autoimmune disease, research is still ongoing.
Fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases share similar symptoms. However, these are two different disorders. As per several studies, fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease.
There are also several undergoing research and studies to determine the same. And most recent studies have arrived at a similar conclusion (fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease).
Even if fibromyalgia isn’t an autoimmune disease, reliable studies show that the condition weakens the immune system by triggering other conditions and abnormalities.