Chronic widespread pain is one of the most common of fibromyalgia symptoms. However, the cause of pain associated with fibromyalgia syndrome has long troubled medical experts. Nevertheless, a new study has found that fibromyalgia-related pain might be linked to levels of cytokines, a type of protein linked to inflammatory responses in the body.
But exactly how are cytokine levels linked to fibromyalgia syndrome and what does this mean for fibromyalgia diagnosis and treatment options?
Cytokine Protein and Fibromyalgia Syndrome
A recent German study examined the cytokine protein profiles of 40 patients with chronic widespread pain, 26 of whom had fibromyalgia. The study found that the patients with chronic widespread pain had significantly lower levels of two types of cytokines, IL-4 and IL-10 than individuals who do not, suggesting a link between low levels of cytokine proteins and fibromyalgia syndrome.
Cytokines are a type of protein that are key to the normal functioning of the immune system, as they serve as messengers that order the body’s immune cells to activate, grow and die. Cytokine cells also help white blood cells ward off infection, a process that results in inflammation.
However, further research needs to be conducted in order to determine if low levels of cytokine are a cause or consequence of pain, as well as whether additional types of cytokines are involved in this process. If such a relationship is validated by further research, this means that cytokine expression patterns could be used in fibromyalgia diagnosis as well as fibromyalgia treatment.
In previous studies, IL-10 and IL-4 have been shown to reduce the body’s response to pain; however the relationship between low levels of cytokines and chronic pain found in the German study is not yet clear; however, one possible theory is that genetic variation either in the genes, the cytokines themselves or regulatory elements is the cause of low cytokine protein levels in individuals who experience severe pain.
Alternatively, previous studies suggested a link between high levels of cytokines and fibromyalgia syndrome, as well as other related conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
While more research needs to be conducted in order to determine the exact nature of the relationship between cytokine protein levels and fibromyalgia pain, such fibromyalgia treatment options as drug therapy, alternative therapies such as hydrotherapy and changes to one’s diet, may be potential ways in which to regulate an individual’s levels of cytokine protein, thereby hopefully helping to minimize fibromyalgia pain.