Does Fibromyalgia Run in the Family?
If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you may have wondered how much of the syndrome is genetic. Do your parents endure neck and back pain, chronic fatigue and headaches? Do your brothers, sisters and children exhibit many of the same symptoms of fibromyalgia? Scientists are now closer to understanding why many people in your family may be susceptible to similar painful conditionsand diseases.
All in the Genes?
The role of genes in fibromyalgia and related conditions has been the subject of vigorous debate and controversy since the late 1980s. In those years, Dr. Muhammad B. Yunus of the University of Illinois College of Medicine conducted a study of 40 fibromyalgia patients and their families to determine the genetic basis of the illness. Of the families of the 40 fibromyalgia patients, 74% of siblings, 53% of children and 42% of parents had fibromyalgia. Notably, Yunus found a connection between the genetic marker, human leukocyte antigen (HLA), and the development of fibromyalgia.
HLA, a protein found in your body’s cells, is used by the immune system to recognize familiar cells and reject foreign cells. Although people inherit this protein from their parents, its presence does not necessarily indicate a person will develop fibromyalgia. It has since been hypothesized that several genes are working together to create fibromyalgia in certain people.
The human leukocyte antigen system is the name of a cluster of genes found in our immune system that work to keep foreign pathogens out of our bodies. There are more than 100 human leukocyte antigens. HLA types were once most often studied to find organ donors for organ transplants. HLA is still currently used to find matches for bone marrow transplants.
It is believed that certain HLA types are passed down from generation to generation and can lead to autoimmune disorders such as lupus erythematosus and Sjogren’s Syndrome. Even though fibromyalgia is considered a chronic syndrome,e not an autoimmune disorder, Dr.Yunus used HLA types to infer peoples’ genetic predisposition to the disease. However, scientists in the study were not able to exclude the environment of the family as a predisposing factor to the disease.
Role of Family Environment in Fibromyalgia
It has long been known that chronic physical and emotional stress plays a significant role in the development of fibromyalgia. Stress can make the symptoms of FMS worse or actually initiate the syndrome.
In 1999, doctors of the Department of Psychiatry of Harvard Medical School wanted to investigate the connection between physical and sexual abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction to facial pain, myofascial painand fibromyalgia. The results were somewhat distressing; all pain groups had a high rate and history of abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction.
Fibromyalgia patients had a family abuse history of more than 64.7%, more than 38% had a family history of alcohol dependence and 5.8% to 19.1% had a family history of drug dependence. Although not all patients suffering from fibromyalgia have these types of family histories, the study revealed that chronic stress is a proven factor leading to fibromyalgia and related pain disorders.
Current research indicates that genetics, chronic stress, family history and environment all play substantial roles in the development of fibromyalgia, though no conclusive answers have been made. There is more research being done on how genetics affects fibromyalgia. While you may have no control over your genes, you can take control of your stress and reduce it by using coping skills.