Fibromyalgia can be a difficult disease to understand. The short definition of fibromyalgia is that it is a common musculoskeletal condition that includes chronic pains around the body and also often includes fatigue and anxiety.
Currently, experts believe that this is due to a dysregulation of the immune system but they don’t believe it caused by autoimmune problems.
However, research groups are beginning to look father into this possibility.
The answer to this question is actually pretty straightforward. But it requires a little more background to fully explain why the current answer researchers have found is correct.
Autoimmune Just Means Something in The Immune System, Right?
While an autoimmune condition does deal with the immune system, it is a little bit different.
An autoimmune condition means that your immune system will identify a typical healthy part of your body and think it is a virus.
If you know even a little bit of the immune system, you will know this isn’t good. If you don’t, your immune system develops antibodies to protect against dangerous or foreign bacteria within your body. Then it will send these antibodies out to eliminate the threat.
See how bad an autoimmune condition really can be now?
So How Can We Tell That Fibromyalgia Isn’t an Autoimmune Disease?
A major characteristic of autoimmune diseases is inflammation, due to incredibly reactive T lymphocytes.
This is a type of immune cell that helps fight infection, and the inflammation comes about as a natural immune response.
In the majority of people with fibromyalgia, there aren’t often signs of increased inflammation, typical autoimmune damage done to the body, or the discovery of autoantibodies.
On the other hand, there is often an overlap between fibromyalgia and some autoimmune conditions.
This shows that there is a potential risk of developing fibromyalgia by having autoimmune issues.
These conditions include things like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis.
With the conditions listed in the section above, we can put together a list of similarities between fibromyalgia and autoimmune conditions.
These similarities include:
- Symptoms being similar
- Difficult to diagnose
- Poor understanding of the condition
- Classification of rheumatic, although fibromyalgia is actually a neurological condition.
There is still a lot of research that needs to be done to find out more about these conditions.
Fibromyalgia is still being researched so new information still has the possibility of popping up at any moment.
Current Findings on Potentials Causes
While there is still research being done to look farther into the disease, there are still some facts that researchers have found that I believe will be important to know.
Some research shows particular nerve structures (i.e. the optic nerve) can be damaged due to this disorder.
Currently, it does not appear as evidence of there being an autoimmune issue, but there would need to be more research in order to find out.
There is currently no known cause of fibromyalgia. However, researchers and doctors agree that there are many potential reasons why it is caused.
These potential reasons ranging from emotional trauma to physical injuries. Because of this, it is now fairly common for someone to call fibromyalgia a neuroimmune disorder.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Those who have fibromyalgia often show various brain chemical and hormonal abnormalities.
However, there isn’t any particular pattern amongst patients in this regard, so there is still research that needs to be done to see if the imbalances do come from the disorder or if they come from another disease.
In any case, those with fibromyalgia often experience things such as:
- Lowered serotonin levels and activity
- Lowered norepinephrine and cortisol levels, which typically leads to poor responses to physical or psychological stressors
- Up to three times the typical level of substance P, which normally ends up related to the increased pain perception
- Lowered levels of IFG-1, which is what promotes bone and muscle growth
- Lower amounts of opioid receptor activity in areas of your brain that would regulate your mood and any emotion that would be tied to pain
While these symptoms are shared by some who have fibromyalgia, it is not incredibly common amongst these people.
But currently, fibromyalgia only can group particular symptoms together that are commonly found in those who suffer from this disorder.
Essentially, there isn’t just one pattern that demonstrates you have fibromyalgia or not.
Some incredibly common shared symptoms and overlapping conditions amongst people who suffer from fibromyalgia include:
- Aches, stiffness, and radiating or widespread pain
- Sleep disorders
- Pain that moves across the body to an area that isn’t associated with any damage
- Lowered cognitive abilities
- Restless leg syndrome
- Lowered pain threshold, which leads to pain from things like light pressure
- Unrefreshing sleep that only furthers you fatigue
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Despite there not being a lot of information about the cause of fibromyalgia, there is enough information to see what people who have this disorder share.
So What’s the Answer? Can Fibromyalgia Be an Autoimmune Disease?
The purpose of the last sections of this article was to showcase exactly what is known about fibromyalgia as of this very moment. That’s because the answer to the question is basically this:
No, it’s not an autoimmune disease. However, some have displayed traits associated with having an autoimmune disease and it is possible some of the current symptoms actually emerge from issues within the immune system.
A lot of research will need to be done in order to come to a better conclusion. There are a lot of aspects of this disease that need to be explored.
It also appears as if there needs to be more intensive research done to discover a pattern amongst those who suffer from this disorder so that researchers can more quickly and accurately figure out the causes. It may not be possible to do this for many years.
In any case, hopefully, this article helped answer your questions about fibromyalgia and what really qualifies as an autoimmune disease. Let us know what you thought of it!
What kind of disease is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a little-understood disease that is likely neurological. The disease manifests as chronic pain in the muscles of the body in addition to a general sense of fatigue.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include trouble sleeping, joint stiffness, persistent headaches, tingling and numbness in the hands or feet, and cognitive issues, including memory loss and trouble focusing.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, this neurological disorder is most common in women and affects somewhere between two and four percent of the world’s population.
In addition to chronic physical pain, fibromyalgia can also increase emotional distress as well as depression and anxiety in those afflicted.
Fibromyalgia can also manifest as a temporomandibular disease (TMJ), which involved jaw pain and clicking as well as tinnitus.
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but there are a number of possible factors that could be linked to the disease, including:
- A hereditary or genetic disposition
- Accidents and injuries
- Certain infections (such as hepatitis C, Epstein-Barr virus, parvovirus, and Lyme disease)
- Psychological and emotional stress
This YouTube video can help you better understand what fibromyalgia is, where it stems from, and how it manifests in the human body.
Is fibromyalgia an inflammatory disease?
While pain caused by fibromyalgia may resemble other inflammatory diseases, it is not classified as an inflammatory disease itself.
The Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies defines an inflammatory disease or disorder as an instance when the body’s normal inflammatory response to injury or disease is out of control.
Fibromyalgia is caused by a disorder in the sensory processing of the body, not the inflammatory processing, explains Rheumatologist Daniel Clauw, M.D.
In other words, the chronic pain that a person with fibromyalgia experiences is likely due more to an imbalance in the body’s sensitivity.
With the additional psychological symptoms of fatigue and depression, again, it is reasonably clear that fibromyalgia is not an inflammatory disease.
Is fibromyalgia caused by an autoimmune disease?
Again, while fibromyalgia may resemble symptoms of different autoimmune diseases, such as Sjogren’s Syndrome and/or rheumatoid arthritis, it is not caused by an autoimmune disorder.
An autoimmune disease, according to the Office on Women’s Health with the U.S. Department of Health, is caused by a disorder in the body’s immune system that makes it “unable to tell the difference between self and non-self.”
In other words, an autoimmune disease, just like inflammatory disease, is the result of one of the body’s natural protective processes malfunctioning and causing damage to its own systems.
Fibromyalgia shares some symptoms with autoimmune diseases centering on chronic pain and fatigue. While an autoimmune source cannot be completely ruled out, there is a general understanding that such disease does not cause fibromyalgia.
The authorities at Fibromyalgia.info explain that are a few factors that point to fibromyalgia not being caused by an autoimmune disorder, which include:
- Lack of immune biological elements in the blood
- Lack of inflammation due to immune response
- Lack of overall tissue degeneration
The confusion between fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases often stems from the fact that the two commonly occur at the same time in a single individual.
Thus, individual suffering from Lupus might also experience the notorious muscle spasms and pain resulting from fibromyalgia.
The fibromyalgia autoimmune protocol
Despite the clear scientific connection between fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases, their shared symptoms and general lowered quality of life can both benefit from the long-popular Autoimmune Protocol Diet.
There are no cures for fibromyalgia or autoimmune diseases, but a change in diet and lifestyle can help to significantly reduce your symptoms and make you feel better and healthier overall.
The Autoimmune Protocol Diet involves a nutrient dense plan that closely resembles the modern “Paleo” diet. A Paleolithic diet involves eating only whole foods, which include lean meats, whole vegetables and fruit, and seeds and nuts.
This type of eating plan removes all processed, gluten-rich, sugar rich, and dairy products from your diet. In addition to the Paleo diet’s many other health benefits, it can be a useful tool in improving dietary health in individuals suffering from fibromyalgia and/or autoimmune diseases.
One of the lead dietitians at Diet vs. Disease explains that the Autoimmune Protocol Diet is believed to remove certain “food chemical and compounds” that can cause inflammation or other gut disorders in sensitive individuals (which, of course, includes individuals with fibromyalgia).
By removing these types of foods (which often manifest as processed or otherwise preserved foods) from your diet, it can help decrease the propensity for pain and fatigue symptoms.
A big part of the benefit of diets like this is that they are inherently healthy, and it is possible that adopting such a diet will make you feel better simply because you are eating better. But then, so long as you are feeling better, what is the difference?
The Autoimmune Protocol Diet includes removing the following foods completely from your diet:
- All grains and pseudo-grains
- All legumes, nuts, and seeds
- All nightshade vegetables (which include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants)
- All Dairy
- All vegetable oils
- Anything with added sugar or sweeteners
- Anything with food additives
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, which include ibuprofen and Tylenol)
This is an extremely strict dietary protocol that can fit with the Paleo diet to a degree. Acceptable foods include:
- All vegetables except nightshade varieties
- Olive oil, Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil
- Fermented foods (such as pickles, kefir, etc.)
- Small quantities of fruit (because they are high in natural sugars)
You can choose to follow this strict diet to the letter, or you can choose to modify it to fit your dietary preference.
The essential component of a successful diet is to follow it closely and not diverge too often.