Is Fibromyalgia An Autoimmune Disease?

Is Fibromyalgia An Autoimmune Disease?

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome rather than a single disease entity. It is a common cause of multiple regional body pain and disability. It is commonly associated with Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS) in other organs. Therefore, fibromyalgia can also be called as a Chronic Relapsing Disease of Pain Perception.

Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS) are those symptoms which occur in absence of a medical condition.
Fibromyalgia is currently classified under Central Sensitivity Syndrome (CSS).

Incidence:

In India, this condition affects 0.5-2% of the general population. Females are more frequently affected than males in a ratio of 10:1. This condition may occur in any age group, however, it is observed more commonly among women in the elderly age group. About 10-15% of patients have some associated rheumatologic condition.

Is Fibromyalgia An Autoimmune Disease?

No. Fibromyalgia is disease syndrome. Although fibromyalgia is often associated with auto immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, painful bladder syndrome and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) yet, it has not been classified as Autoimmune in itself. When fibromyalgia is associated with these auto-immune disorders, it is often termed as “Secondary Fibromyalgia”.

How to Diagnose Fibromyalgia?

There are no tests to identify if a person is having fibromyalgia. Nonetheless, a physician may run a few tests to exclude other disorders similar to that of fibromyalgia.

Causes of Fibromyalgia

  1. Genetic factors play an important factor in the causation of fibromyalgia.
  2. Complaints may be triggered by stress, negative emotions and other psychological factors, genetic factors and infections.
  3. Certain researches have identified Growth hormone abnormalities to be one of the contributing factors towards Fibromyalgia.
  4. It is also assumed that fibromyalgia may be associated with low levels of serotonin.
  5. It is also believed that food sensitivity itself could be a triggering factor for chronic widespread pain. Certain foods such as gluten, yeast and food additives could be causes of certain symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia:

Fibromyalgia is a symptom-complex and symptoms appear differently in different individuals. Signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia often overlap with other syndromes such as:

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  2. Restless Leg Syndrome
  3. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  4. Migraine and Tension Headaches.
  5. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Some Signs and Symptoms Presented by Patients having Fibromyalgia are

  1. Generalized Pain: Chronic pain in joints and muscles lasting for a long duration. Pain may be widespread, that is, pain present on both sides of the body.
  2. Disturbed Sleep: Sleep may be disturbed due to pain perception. The symptom of poor sleep may co-exist with sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome.
  3. Fatigue: Feeling tired after some work or may be present throughout the day.
  4. Cognitive Dysfunction: This occurs due to the distracting quality of pain. Cognitive dysfunction can be correlated with the intensity and character of pain. Abnormal levels of neurotransmitters are assumed to be the cause of impaired cognitive ability.
  5. For Physical Examination: 18 tender points in pairs of nine have been demonstrated by American Rheumatism Association (ARA) in patients with fibromyalgia. Testing for 1 or 2 tender points is advised as testing for all 18 points would be troublesome for the patient.

How is Fibromyalgia with Thyroid Disorders Related?

Thyroid disorders like hyper and hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia are two separate entities. However, autoimmune thyroid disorder is a recognized cause of chronic widespread pain and fibromyalgia.

Role of inflammatory mediators, central sensitization and small-fiber neuropathy are the identified mechanisms of pain operating in autoimmune thyroid disorders. These pathways are responsible for the development of symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Prospective researches of these pain pathways direct physician to the rational use of pharmacological therapies for chronic pain in autoimmune thyroid diseases.

How to Treat Fibromyalgia Naturally?

Although the medical industry has a large number of treatment options at the disposal of patients for managing fibromyalgia, there are certain ways in which complaints can be managed effectively at home along with the on-going treatment.

Three major aspects in the management of fibromyalgia are Self-Care, Supportive Therapies and Medications.

Some Ways to Manage Fibromyalgia Naturally are:

1. Yoga, meditation and breathing exercises.

2. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese method intended towards balancing the energies of a person in order to alleviate pain, stress and many other symptoms. Acupuncture is widely practiced by certified physicians even in India.

3. Physical Rehabilitation Therapy (Physiotherapy) aims at strengthening of muscles and improving the range of movements

4. An exercise such as walking, cycling and swimming reduces stress and improves sleep.

5. Vitamin D Supplements are often recommended as a part of the treatment of fibromyalgia. Vitamin D is produced under the skin on exposure to the sun.

6. Massage therapy helps to relax muscles and reduce a considerable amount of stress.

7. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – This therapy aims at helping a person manage the way he/ she thinks or behaves. It is intended to change one’s way ofbehaviourr and thinking.

8. Use of Essential Oils Too aids in the management of fibromyalgia. Essential oils are able to balance the hormones. Essential oils are natural and cost-effective ways to manage a number of health conditions. Some of them are:

  • To keep a person energetic, focused and refreshed – Peppermint, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lemongrass, Eucalyptus and Rosemary.
  • To improve brain function and cognitive abilities – Peppermint oil
  • For sleep related troubles – Lavender, Roman chamomile, Bergamot and Vetiver.
  • To relive stress, anxiety and depression – Lavender, Chamomile, Bergamot, Orange, Rose, Frankincense, Vetiver.
  • To manage widespread aches and pains – Peppermint, Wintergreen, Cyprus, Lavender, Myrrh, Rosemary, Thyme, Turmeric, Marjoram and Ginger. These oils can be applied directly over the painful areas.
  • To relieve a headache and migraines – lavender oil, Eucalyptus.

These oils can be used singly or in combination and can be inhaled, applied directly or infused with warm oil or water for relief from symptoms of fibromyalgia. Essentials oils are not meant to be consumed.

9. Since, fibromyalgia is known to be a Mitochondrial Dysfunction, mitochondria being power-houses of our cells, energy-rich foods like nuts, green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, legumes, beans, oatmeal and tofu, are advised.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in anti-oxidants.

A research had demonstrated that individuals, who were vegetarians, had lesser symptoms of fibromyalgia, as compared to those following a non-vegetarian diet.

10. Choose food which is high in fiber and low in sugar and sweets. A quick rise in blood pressure followed by immediate fall results in more fatigue.

11. Avoid processed foods or those which contain triggering agents like gluten, food additives (mono-sodium glutamate and nitrates) and preservatives.

12. Some researches even emphasize benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in relief of symptoms.

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Kaushal M. Bhavsar (MBBS, MD)Assistant Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad