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Scientists Uncover Shocking Cause of Fibromyalgia
While science currently has no way to pinpoint the precise cause of fibromyalgia, certain contributing factors are present in many cases. The three top causes of fibromyalgia are infections, genetics, and past abuse. Read more about how childhood abuse and fibromyalgia are linked below.
Although fibromyalgia has been classified as a serious medical condition since the 1970s (before that, doctors thought the condition was fake and invented by women to obtain more drugs), scientists are just beginning to uncover what causes the disease.
In some shocking studies, researchers have found that abuse during childhood is associated with higher rates for chronic fatigue syndrome, chemical sensitivities, and fibromyalgia. Studies have shown that women (and a few men) who have reported childhood abuse (sexual or physical) are 65 percent as likely to have fibromyalgia and twice as likely to have chronic fatigue syndrome (which some scientists believe is linked closely to fibromyalgia).
According to one 2011 study from the University of Toronto, "These findings persisted even after controlling for potentially confounding factors such as other adverse childhood experiences, age, race, mental health and adult socioeconomic status." However, although studies show that abuse and fibromyalgia are linked, there is still some debate in the medical community about the importance of the findings.
According to studies, about 30-40 percent of adults have suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at some point in their childhoods. Other studies suggest that the actual statistics may be much higher and under-reported. Several studies have looked at the role of sexual abuse and fibromyalgia specifically, and the results are shocking.
In several studies, about 65 percent of women with fibromyalgia reported sexual abuse. Although researchers do not quite know how or why childhood abuse is linked to fibromyalgia, it is important to consider abuse’s role in the steps taken to heal and control fibromyalgia symptoms.
Individuals with fibromyalgia should examine their personal history to uncover any past abuse that could have contributed to the sensitivity.
Although abuse is one common contributing factor for fibromyalgia, it is not the only factor. Genetics and infections can also be triggers. Current research has looked at the role of infections in fibromyalgia, and the results there are also somewhat surprising. Latent infections, particularly infections in the nervous system, may contribute to fibromyalgia symptoms and pain sensitivity.
Genetically, studies have shown that individuals who have family members with fibromyalgia or other pain sensitivity disorders are more likely to have fibromyalgia themselves.
Much of the research about abuse and fibromyalgia has emerged within the past 5-10 years. This means that there is little hard evidence that pins down how abuse can influence fibromyalgia symptoms in the future. However, there are currently two different theories about how fibromyalgia and abuse are linked:
Research published in “Scientific American” in 1995 looked at the brain changes in patients who were sexually abused. The researchers found that the hippocampus was significantly altered in abused patients. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for short-term and long-term memories.
During stressful events, the hippocampus is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. This altered the brain and the way memories were stored in abused patients. Some researchers theorize that extended stress could also alter the area of the brain dealing with pain reception. Studies have shown that individuals with fibromyalgia are more sensitive to pain even at a chemical level, so this theory is not completely unfounded.
The second theory about fibromyalgia and abuse is called sensitization. This theory states that individuals with fibromyalgia have a reduced threshold of pain because their brains have an increased sensitivity to pain signals. This theory is similar to the stress theory, but looks at the same conclusion from a different angle.
The researchers believe that extended nerve stimulation (as occurs during abuse) can cause brain changes in individuals with fibromyalgia. Basically, all sensations are reported to the brain as pain.
Several recent studies have backed the theory that abuse of any kind can lead to an increased risk for fibromyalgia.
A 1995 study conducted by McGill University in Canada found that in a group of 83 women with fibromyalgia and 161 women in the control group, 37 percent of women in the fibromyalgia group had experienced childhood sexual abuse. Only 22 percent of women in the control group reported childhood sexual abuse. Women in the fibromyalgia group also reported higher levels of physical abuse (18 percent vs 4 percent), drug abuse (16 percent vs 3 percent), and lifetime sexual abuse (17 percent vs 6 percent).
Another study from 1995 conducted by the American College of Rheumatology found that 65 percent of women with fibromyalgia reported sexual abuse. 52 percent of the women in the control group reported facing sexual abuse at some point in their lifetime. The women with fibromyalgia who were abused also reported higher levels of pain, weakness, fatigue, and depression. The researchers from this study concluded that although sexual abuse was not a direct cause for fibromyalgia, it could make symptoms much worse.
In 1999, the journal “Disability and Rehabilitation” published a study examining the relationship between sensory and pain disorders like fibromyalgia and past childhood abuse (including sexual, physical, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse). In the fibromyalgia group, 64.7 percent of participants reported past abuse. The researchers concluded that childhood traumatic events could significantly influence a person’s chances of suffering from chronic pain.
In 2011, researchers from the University of Toronto examined statistics from over 7,300 Canadian women. 10 percent of the women reported childhood sexual abuse. 2.5 percent of these women were diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The researchers found that women with past physical abuse were about 65 percent more likely to develop fibromyalgia.
While the current medical research does link abuse to fibromyalgia, to say that abuse causes fibromyalgia in all cases is premature. It is definitely a contributing factor, according to these studies, but it does not explain why many women and men who were abused as children do not have fibromyalgia. There are also other factors at work in addition to the abuse issue.
Some researchers believe that treating abuse-related fibromyalgia in a similar method to treatment for abuse, rather than for chronic pain, could help heal symptoms more effectively. One possible treatment method is raising serotonin levels in the brain; which helps boost overall brain function, restore mood, and reduce pain sensitivity.
If you have fibromyalgia or another chronic pain disorder, speak to your health professional about the possible relation to past abuse. Your health professional may want to treat your condition from a different angle if past abuse is revealed. Healing abuse-related issues could help contribute to a reduction of fibromyalgia symptoms.
Many treatment methods for fibromyalgia can be done in the privacy of your own home. Research has suggested that a variety of natural treatment options can be effective at reducing pain sensitivity and helping individuals with fibromyalgia live normal lives. If your fibromyalgia is influenced by past abuse in any way, the following three natural methods can help you fight unwanted pain symptoms and live a normal life:
Your diet can play a role in healing your body and reducing pain sensitivity. You may not be able to completely eliminate fibromyalgia flare-ups, but you can help keep them under control with these helpful supplements and diet options.
You can add a lot of essential nutrients simply through diet. Add the following foods to your diet to ensure you promote health and reduce pain symptoms in your life:
Vitamin D Foods: Dairy products, eggs, fish, mushrooms Ascorbigen Foods: Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
Magnesium Foods: Potatoes, leafy greens, beans, fish, brown rice
Omega-3 Foods: Fish, walnuts, leafy greens, fortified dairy products
Avoid Chemicals: Caffeine, smoking, MSG, artificial sugar Therapy and Emotional Support If abuse has triggered a patient’s fibromyalgia symptoms, in some cases, dealing with the emotional trauma of the abuse may help alleviate some of the physical side effects of fibromyalgia. A few studies have show that therapy methods, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is beneficial in fibromyalgia patients.
Exercise has been shown in multiple studies to benefit patients with fibromyalgia by decreasing pain, increasing mood, and decreasing fatigue. Exercise benefits the body in multiple ways. It can make the body stronger, boost mood, and may even help control painful side effects of fibromyalgia.
According to a 2011 review of exercise therapy for fibromyalgia, any form of exercise is beneficial. Most health practitioners recommend a variety of exercises to keep the exercise interesting.
If your fibromyalgia symptoms are related to abuse in any way, you can still take methods to cure the painful condition. Knowing one of the influencing factors for your condition can help you find the right treatment methods for you.
If you believe past abuse could be contributing to your fibromyalgia pain, consult with your health provider right away about creating an individualized treatment plan involving diet and supplements, medications, exercise, and therapy. A multi-faceted approach may be the best way to reduce or eliminate painful fibromyalgia symptoms that can interfere with daily life.
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Srivastava KC and Mustafa T. Med Hypotheses 1992;39(4):342-348.
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