We don’t know much about fibromyalgia. But from what we do know, it’s obvious that it’s a very complicated condition. Most people with the condition can remember a time when they first started noticing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. And while it’s fairly rare to find people who have exactly the same story, many people with fibromyalgia report developing the condition following bacterial infections.
It’s an intriguing clue to the possible origins of the condition. So, what exactly is the link between infection and fibromyalgia? And what can it tell us about the causes of fibromyalgia?
BACTERIAL INFECTIONS AND FIBROMYALGIA
We don’t know what causes fibromyalgia. But we do know that there are things that seem to make you more likely to develop the condition. Studies of people with fibromyalgia have shown that a significant number of them developed fibromyalgia after the body undergoes some kind of trauma.
A study published in 2015 looked at 939 patients with fibromyalgia found some interesting correlations between the disease and physical trauma. 203 of the patients had experienced some kind of physical trauma just before developing the disease. And 53 had experienced a bacterial infection.
The authors of the study call these “precipitating events,” meaning that they seem to lead to the onset of symptoms.
Other studies have drawn some more direct connections between precipitating events and fibromyalgia. One study found that fibromyalgia and Lyme disease seem to be closely linked. Obviously, both conditions lead to similar symptoms. But there seems to be a deeper connection as well.
One study found that in fibromyalgia patients who reported developing the condition after an infection, around 15% had developed it after contracting Lyme disease. This makes it one of the more common infections that lead to fibromyalgia. But other studies have found significant rates of connection between conditions like HIV infection and parvovirus infection.
But while these studies seem to suggest a link does exist between, we aren’t sure why that is. Further studies are needed to definitely establish that. However, we can speculate about some of the possible explanations.
DO BACTERIAL INFECTIONS CAUSE FIBROMYALGIA
Some people have suggested that fibromyalgia itself might be a bacterial infection. But while it seems that bacterial infections can trigger fibromyalgia, this probably isn’t the case. After all, many people, probably the majority of them, develop the condition without any signs of bacterial infection. And there are many other events that can trigger fibromyalgia besides infection.
Instead, the relationship between infection and fibromyalgia is likely much more complex.
The first possibility is that the bacteria itself is causing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Rather than triggering fibromyalgia to develop, the bacteria is infecting the body and created the condition we call fibromyalgia. Essentially, that would mean that fibromyalgia is more a set of common symptoms created by many different conditions than a condition itself.
But this is also unlikely. If bacteria were causing the symptoms of fibromyalgia, then it would be possible to control those symptoms with antibiotics. Of course, this doesn’t seem to be possible. And most doctors reject this idea.
The most likely explanation is that somehow infections create a response in the body that contributes to someone developing fibromyalgia.
There’s evidence that something changes in the brain of people with fibromyalgia. The nervous system seems to become extra sensitive to pain. And it begins transmitting pain signals along the nerves without any external stimulus. And while we can’t say for sure that this is the cause of fibromyalgia, it does seem to play a role in why the condition causes pain.
The question is: do bacterial infections play some role in triggering this hypersensitivity?
We know that infections can lead to inflammation in the tissue. And we know that inflammation is associated with higher levels of immune cells in the blood. And these immune cells release something called cytokines.
Cytokines are proteins that play a role in keeping the immune system functional. But cytokines also seem to play a role in chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia. The cytokines begin to trigger pain responses in the nervous system. Over time, these pain responses can trigger hypersensitivity.
This could be the explanation for why infection seems to lead to fibromyalgia. Basically, infections produce inflammation, which leads to cytokines. These cytokines trigger pain signals and, eventually, nervous system hypersensitivity.
And because the nervous system is now more sensitive to pain and triggers pain signals on its own, it leads to the widespread pain of fibromyalgia. This is just a theory, and more research is needed. But it is a logical explanation for the link between infection and fibromyalgia.
So, what do you think? Was your fibromyalgia triggered by an infection? What do you think the link is? Tell us in the comments.