In the past few years scientists have made tremendous progress unraveling the mysteries of fibromyalgia. Although there is still some disagreement as to the cause of FM, there is little disagreement that its onset is usually triggered by some form of trauma. The trauma may be physical, in the form of an injury or illness, or it could be an emotional trauma that produces severe, prolonged stress.
Current research seems to indicate that some people have a genetic predisposition to fibromyalgia, although the symptoms usually do not show up until triggered by one of these traumas.
One popular theory as to the cause of fibromyalgia is that a trauma or significant stressor turns on an individual's "fight-or-flight" response. This response, designed to help us function in an emergency situation, usually only lasts a short time, then turns itself off.
But when the stress becomes prolonged, the fight-or-flight response gets stuck in the "on" position and the person's body remains in a state of high alert. Being in a constant state of high alert puts even more stress on the body. This results in, among other things, a loss of deep, restorative sleep, which in turn causes pain amplification throughout the body.
Regardless of what initially triggers the illness, research has shown that fibromyalgia patients have very real physical abnormalities, including:
- Decreased blood flow to specific areas of the brain, particularly the thalamus region, which may help explain the pain sensitivity and cognitive functioning problems fibromyalgia patients experience.
- High levels of "substance P," a central nervous system neurotransmitter involved in pain processing.
- Low levels of nerve growth factor.
- Low levels of somatomedin C, a hormone that promotes bone and muscle growth.
- Low levels of several neurochemicals: serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and cortisol.
- Low levels of phosphocreatine and adenosine, muscle-cell chemicals.