The Connection Between Genetics, Heredity and Fibromyalgia

The pathogenesis of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is not completely known. Research has indicated that there are several explanations as to the causal factors. One of the recent efforts to learn more information about who does and does not develop fibromyalgia involves looking at the genetic make-up of the individuals. Is a genetic explanation possible for fibromyalgia? Is it possible the fibromyalgia syndrome is hereditary? The answer is a qualified “yes” at this point.

Genetics Plays a Role in Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia syndrome is not a simple disorder, and it is not thoroughly researched yet. This explains why it is not possible to claim that fibromyalgia is an inherited trait or that genetics plays a definitive role. The frequent coexistence of fibromyalgia with other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), depression and sleep disorders, makes it even more difficult to clarify the situation. The suggestion recently has been that both familial and genetic aspects may play a part in the cause and/or development of the syndrome. However, the exact and specific role these factors play is not yet known. It also remains uncertain whether one or more genes are responsible, although it is more likely that several genes co-operate together to produce the potential for someone to develop fibromyalgia.[1]

It is quite possible that genetic factors, therefore, may place you at risk of developing FMS. They may not be the cause (at least not as yet identified through research), but merely the contributors to risk. Studies with twins and families with FMS show that having a first degree relative with FMS puts a person at higher risk for FMS. This strongly suggests at least some component of a gentic factor. However, while there may be a genetic component, medical professionals have to look elsewhere for other causal factors or triggers. Recently, considerable attention has been paid to the possible co-relation between genetic predisposition towards FMS and the individual’s environment. Evidence seems to indicate that environmental stressors may be one of the major triggers for those genetically sensitive to fibromyalgia.[2]

What Research Has Revealed to Date

Research in the area of fibromyalgia has, generally, been supportive of a link between an individual’s genetic composition and the development of fibromyalgia. Studies of twins have provided some enlightenment in this area. Buskila (2005, 2006, 2007, 2009) and his various associates over the years have looked at the prevalence of fibromyalgia among families and close relatives. One study indicated the percentage of those with fibromyalgia whose family members also suffered from the same syndrome was 28%. In his research Buskila et al (2007)[3] also discovered a possible link between genes, family and gender. This was based on the rate of those with FMS whose blood relatives also had the syndrome, which was as high as 26%. The researchers concluded in this study that an individual with a relative who had fibromyalgia was likely at a greater risk of suffering from fibromyalgia than someone who had no familial connection. Unfortunately, the mode of fibromyalgia inheritance remains unknown, but that is expected to change as research continues through studies using larger numbers of patients.

Research has also been done by Bradley (2008)[4] as well as Dadabhoy et al (2008)[5] concerning biomarkers and genetics. Biomarkers were analyzed to see if there was a relationship between certain biomarkers and those who are susceptible to fibromyalgia. In particular, research has begun to focus on biomarkers with the intent of using them for early identification purposes. Dadabhoy et al (2008) have compiled the scientific evidence obtained from research done on both the genetic and biomarkers to determine if there is a relationship to fibromyalgia. More recent research in this field is working to discover if there is a direct link between fibromyalgia and very specific genes and biomarkers.

Overwhelmingly, it is becoming obvious through research and various studies that a connection does seem to exist between heredity and genes and fibromyalgia. There appears to be a strong familial association. While research does not exclude other potential causal factors and contributors, particularly environmental stressors like stress, sensitivity to certain metals, foods and pollutants, it does indicate a strong connection between fibromyalgia and genetic make-up.[6]

Determining if Fibromyalgia is Related to Heredity

The research indicates that fibromyalgia does occur regularly in some families, but a genetic link is not present in everyone who has fibromyalgia. This indicates two things worthy of serious consideration. The first point is simple. Research clearly indicates that not all forms of fibromyalgia are based on inherited characteristics. It appears that only a certain subgroup of patients with the disorder has a genetic link. The second point noted is that those who do have fibromyalgia may not have inherited the disease at all. Instead, they appear to be born with a predisposition towards the disease.

In other words, you may not be born with the disease but could be genetically disposed towards getting it. Just like some individuals are more susceptible to colds, the flu and other illnesses, those who are genetically predisposed to fibromyalgia may develop it easier than someone who is not. As a result, something, perhaps an environmental stressor, an illness or a more serious trauma, may “trigger” the syndrome.

The Relevance of the Relationship between Genetics and Fibromyalgia

It is increasingly becoming noticeable how important a connection between genetics and fibromyalgia may prove to be. A more complete understanding of the role of genetic material in this disorder is needed. If effective treatment of FMS is to become a reality, it is necessary for further research to be done in this area. It will help to identify more clearly those at risk. It will also help to identify a certain “subgroup” of patients who will respond to specific therapies or customized treatments directed towards controlling somatic disorders and syndromes such as fibromyalgia. Understanding this variation in genes will also help researchers and medical professionals develop new diagnostic tools and methods. It is hoped that one day early detection and better treatment methods will conquer fibromyalgia syndrome.

References

[1] Buskila, D; and Neumann, L (2005). “Genetics of Fibromyalgia.” Curr Pain Headache Rep, 9(5):313-5.

[2] Buskila, D (2009). “Developments in the Scientific and Clinical Understanding of Fibromyalgia.” Arthritis Research & Therapy, 11(5):242-250.

[3] Buskila, D; and Sarzi-Puttini, P (2006). “Biology and Therapy of Fibromyalgia. Genetic Aspects of Fibromyalgia Syndrome.” Arthritis Research and Therapy8(5):218. Buskila

[4] Bradley, LA (2008). “Pathophysiologic Mechanisms of Fibromyalgia and its Related Disorders.” J Clin Psychiatry, 69 (Suppl 2):6-13.

[5] Dadabhoy, D; Crofford, LJ; Spaeth, M; Russell, J; and Clauw, DJ (2008). Evidence-based Biomarkers for Fibromyalgia Syndrome.” Arthritis Research & Therapy, 10(4):211-220.

[6] Smith, HS; and Barkin, RL (2010). “Fibromyalgia Syndrome: A Discussion of the Syndrome and Pharmacotherapy” American Journal of Therapeutics, 17(4): 418-439.

This article was originally published on July 11, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/7/2015