People newly diagnosed with fibromyalgia will have a lot of questions, but one of the most common is: is fibromyalgia an autoimmune disease? Currently, fibromyalgia or FM isn’t classified as one. While there is evidence to show that some cases seem to involve autoimmunity, that research is preliminary and there just isn’t enough evidence to back up this claim. Many experts believe that this condition involves immune system dysregulation, but the nature of this type of dysregulation isn’t well understood.
What is FM?
An autoimmune disease is characterized by the presence of autoantibodies and T lymphocytes that are abnormally self-reactive. Inflammation is a natural part of immune response and because of this, many types of autoimmune diseases can also cause severe inflammation. This inflammation often leads to markers found in the blood that can be easily identified by testing.
FM research has yet to uncover any type of solid evidence that would identify this disease as autoimmune in nature. However, there are results that indicate people with autoimmunity may be more likely to develop this condition. These overlapping conditions include Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Most of the confusion regarding what FM really is usually stems from a misunderstanding regarding what autoimmunity diseases are. However, there are several similarities between FM and autoimmune conditions.
For one, they share similar symptoms such as increased fatigue and pain. Autoimmune conditions can be difficult to diagnose, just like FM. The public and many members of the medical community don’t have a solid understanding regarding what fibromyalgia is and because of this, it’s usually lumped together with autoimmune diseases.
Research has shown that this is a neurological condition, but it was initially believed to be rheumatic and most types of rheumatic diseases are classified as autoimmune.
Unfortunately, this condition is very misunderstood and is often misdiagnosed. The common characteristics include trouble concentrating, sleep issues, fatigue and severe muscle pain. The severity of these symptoms can vary from person to person and can even fluctuate in a single patient, depending on a wide variety of factors including the weather and time of day.
Most symptoms associated with fibromyalgia never completely disappear because this condition is chronic. Fortunately, fibromyalgia isn’t life threatening or progressive and most treatments can work to alleviate the symptoms.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The symptoms and their severity can vary widely, however, fatigue and pain are typically always a common complaint. Some of the major symptoms include pain, fatigue, memory problems, problems sleeping, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Some patients will report pain and discomfort in one or more areas of the body, while other patients tend to experience pain in the ligaments, tendons and muscles. Areas such as the knees, hips, upper back, elbows and the back of the head can also be very sensitive to pressure or touch and are often described as tender. The type and degree of pain can range from tenderness, throbbing and aching to stabbing or shooting sensations. Tingling, intense burning and numbness can also be present.
If you have ever spent a few days in bed over a bad cold, then you have some idea of how tired people with fibromyalgia feel. While some patients will only experience mild fatigue, others have difficulty getting out of bed every day. Patients with this degree of fatigue often report feeling both mentally and physically drained, to the point that the exhaustion has a major impact on their home and work life.
Trouble focusing and remembering are pretty common in people diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Some studies have shown that people with FM will experience frequent interrupted sleep caused by bursts of brain activity. Other issues such as teeth grinding, restless legs and sleep apnea are also common with this condition.
Symptoms of IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome include bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, loose stool and diarrhea.
Other symptoms linked to this condition include dizziness, headaches, painful periods, dry skin, anxiety, depression, migraines, sinus pain, dry hair, increased sensitivity to light, increased sensitivity to touch and dry mouth.
Certain factors can also worsen some FM symptoms. These factors include cold weather, humidity, depression, lack of sleep, too much sleep, inactivity, too much activity, depression and anxiety or stress.
Some people have also reported that stiffness and pain are often worse first thing in the morning.
How do you get Fibromyalgia?
The exact cause of this condition still remains a mystery in the medical community. Although physicians do know that people affected with this disorder will experience chronic pain and increased sensation caused by a glitch located in the central nervous system.
Some studies have shown that patients with this disorder also have certain types of physiological abnormalities including high levels of neurotransmitters, which help to transmit pain signals. This is believed to be the cause of chronic pain and increased sensitivity.
In some patients, a viral or bacterial illness or a trauma or injury to the spine can precede a diagnosis. This theory has caused some researchers to consider that certain types of infections may very well be what triggers this condition.
There are many factors that can increase your risk of this condition. These risk factors include gender, age, a diagnosis of a rheumatic disease, family history, and sleep problems.
- Studies have found that this condition is much more common in women than men.
- FM symptoms often appear in older adults, usually around the age of fifty, however, this condition can also manifest in children.
- If you have been diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis you are at an increased risk of FM.
- Having a family medical history of close family members with this condition also puts you at an increased risk.
- Currently, physicians aren’t certain whether or not sleep issues are a symptom or a cause of this condition. However, certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea have been considered to be triggers of this condition.
Meeting with Your Doctor for the Treatment
If you experience an increase in fatigue, have trouble focusing at home or work, experience mild or severe muscle pain that lasts for several months, it’s time to make an appointment with your primary doctor. Now that you know the answer to “is fibromyalgia an autoimmune disease?” and if you’re at risk of developing fibromyalgia, you can seek help sooner for more effective treatment.