By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
At present there are 1 in 20 people worldwide that are affected with the chronic pain syndrome of fibromyalgia.
Along with pain these patients manifest a range of or other symptoms of varying severity including headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and anxiety, cognitive difficulties, fatigue and menstrual irregularities.
The condition can affect anyone of any age and sex, however, some people are more prone to this condition. These high risk vulnerable groups are based on:-
Women are at least seven times more likely than men to get fibromyalgia. In fact, between 80% and 90% of those affected by the syndrome are female.
Although hormonal hypotheses have been put forward as the cause of this condition, and to explain the female preponderance in prevalence, the exact cause for this gender prevalence is unknown.
The condition is commonly seen between the ages of 20 and 55 years among women. This is their reproductive period and diagnosis is typically made during this time.
The condition may also affect the elderly as well as children. Children may also develop fibromyalgia but may have a slower development and manifestation of symptoms.
Serotonin levels in brain
Some theories suggest that lower levels of serotonin – a chemical messenger in the brain - leads to an increase in pain sensitivity and a lower pain threshold.
Women have around seven times less serotonin in the brain. Lack of serotonin in brain also predisposes a person to develop depression and depression is commonly seen in patients with fibromyalgia.
Growth hormone deficiencies have also been speculated as a condition found among fibromyalgia patients.
Some genes that run in families seem to predispose an individual to get fibromyalgia.
Patients with sleep disorders
Patients with sleep disorders and sleep apnea or snoring are more likely to get fibromyalgia.
Lupus patients are at an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia syndrome. Up to 30% of lupus patients may eventually go on to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Bone and joint diseases
Certain bone and joint diseases may also predispose a person to develop fibromyalgia. For example, around 10 to 15% of osteoarthritis patients may also develop fibromyalgia. Ankylosing spondylitis is another condition that predisposes a person to get fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia may also occur after a physical trauma e.g. in a road traffic accident etc. The pain due to the accident may go on to become chronic and there is development of typical tender points that characterize fibromyalgia.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)