More and more studies are coming out showing that there may be a genetic link in fibromyalgia. If you are a female with a parent who has fibromyalgia, there is up to a 70% likelihood that you will also be diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
I have fibromyalgia. My mom has fibromyalgia. My aunt has fibromyalgia. My other aunt has other much more serious autoimmune issues. And, we are pretty sure my grandmother had fibromyalgia. She was never diagnosed with fibromyalgia but we did find out towards the end of her life that she’d been inaccurately diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and her overall symptoms match fibromyalgia.
As early as 1989, studies found that primary fibromyalgia may be an inherited condition. [Familial Occurrence of Primary Fibromyalgia].
While the actual numbers have not been consistent across studies (due to various means of conducting the study and also the variety in what each examines), about 25% of the children of people with fibromyalgia also have fibromyalgia. Prevalance is higher among female (41%) children of fibromyalgia patients than among male (14%) [Fibromyalgia syndrome and nonarticular tenderness in relatives of patients with FM]
Why is there an increased prevalence of fibromyalgia among families?
There are a few reasons that anything tends to run in a family. The first, and most obvious, is genetic. However, environment can also play a role. And, personality can sometimes mitigate the role of either of those.
When you consider that fibromyalgia often has a triggering event, it’s also possible that many of those family members who did not have fibromyalgia at the time of the various studies may have later been diagnosed. Or, perhaps never experienced an event that triggered fibromyalgia.
Because fibromyalgia is most often diagnosed between 35-45, we can’t assume that the environment of family members is the same. Much of our environment changes when we leave home. While there was likely a shared environment at one point in life by the time symptoms peak and a diagnosis is sought that environment has changed.
Included in environment is diet. Often we continue eating the same diet we were raised on long after we out on our own. Some would point to diet as the primary cause of fibromyalgia and all chronic illness. I would say that it’s only a contributing factor (as are many other things).
Additionally, personalities vary within a family. This could explain why some family members never experience fibromyalgia, while others do. However, that is the case with any genetic illness. Just because you may have a genetic predisposition to an illness, does not mean you will actually have that illness. It just means your chances are higher.
That brings us back to genetic factors. In the end, fibromyalgia likely runs in families due to genetics. However, it should be noted that genes can be changed by the environment and by illness.
There are several genes involved in fibromyalgia. [Genetic Aspects of Fibromyalgia]. There have been a number of studies that have examined various genes in an attempt to find a fibromyalgia gene. However, while every study seems to find a variation of one or more genes in those with fibromyalgia, the genes examined vary greatly from study to study.
As of yet, not one single genetic anomaly can be associated with fibromyalgia or pointed at as the cause of the illness.
A 1999 study examined families where two or more family members had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and found a weak genetic link in the HLA region among family members with fibromyalgia. [Genetic linkage analysis of multicase families with fibromyalgia syndrome].
A 2001 study found differences in the serotonin transporter gene. This study also found that the fibromyalgia group had higher levels of depression and psychological distress. Therefore, it’s difficult to know if this genetic difference is really because of fibromyalgia or because of the co-condition of depression. [Possible association of fibromyalgia with a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene regulatory region]
A large study published in 2011 examined over 350 genes that have been connected to fibromyalgia, inflammation, chronic pain, and mood. This study found a number of gene variants common among those with fibromyalgia (but not among healthy individuals). Thus muddying the waters even further.
Some of the genes implicated in this study include:
- GABRB3 which is also implicated in many developmental disorders including autism and epilepsy.
- TAAR1 which plays a role in regulating the transmission of mood-related chemicals including dopamine and serotonin.
- RGS4 which is involved in terminating signals from the opioid receptors.
- CNR1 is the Cannibinoid Receptor. Variations in this gene have been associated with a number of chronic pain conditions. [Large candidate gene association study reveals genetic risk factors and therapeutic targets for fibromyalgia]
Unfortunately, it seems that rather than one single gene variation that is profound in fibromyalgia, there are several. On the surface it seems a good thing that several variations have been found. The problem is that there’s not a single variation that is found to be common across the board. This makes diagnosing and treating on this basis much more difficult.
It’s possible that a variety of gene anomalies can lead to fibromyalgia when combined with the right set of circumstances. Just as it’s possible that there are multiple causes for fibromyalgia.
- What causes fibromyalgia?
- Is it your responsibility to know your genetic risks?
- Fibromyalgia blood test may lead to vaccine