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Is fibromyalgia an autoimmune disease?

Published May 12, 2021 • By Courtney Johnson

Fibromyalgia is a chronic illness that causes widespread pain throughout the body. Because its symptoms overlap with many of those common in autoimmune diseases, many have been led to question whether it should be classified as such.

What is fibromyalgia? What is an autoimmune disease? Can fibromyalgia be considered an autoimmune disease? What does the latest research say?

We answer these questions and more in our article!

Is fibromyalgia an autoimmune disease?

What is fibromyalgia and what are its symptoms?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic, long-term illness characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness along with extreme fatigue, sleep problems, issues with memory, thinking and concentration, and depression or anxiety

It is unfortunately still poorly understood by the medical community and is thought to affect around 4 million US adults, or about 2% of the adult population.

What is an autoimmune disease?

Autoimmune diseases are disorders in which the body begins to attack itself due to the immune system’s misidentification of healthy cells as a harmful, invading element. In response, the body produces autoantibodies that target and destroy these healthy cells. This attack damages tissues and often causes inflammation in the targeted area.

Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose because it shares many symptoms that are common in autoimmune diseases, and in some cases fibromyalgia can even co-occur with autoimmune disorders.

Conditions that are often associated with fibromyalgia pain include:

Is fibromyalgia an autoimmune disease?

Because fibromyalgia was formerly considered to be an arthritis-related condition and many types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), are autoimmune diseases, the medical community assumed that fibromyalgia could also be classified as such.

As of now, scientists have been unable to prove this claim, as there is no evidence that fibromyalgia produces autoantibodies or damages surrounding tissues, causing inflammation. The underlying cause of fibromyalgia has yet to be determined.

What does the latest research say?

Due to the fact that fibromyalgia often coincides with other autoimmune conditions, it is difficult for researchers to determine whether fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disease in its own right.

In 2007, a study found high levels of thyroid antibodies in fibromyalgia patients, leading them to question if this was a sign that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disease. However, the presence of thyroid antibodies is not uncommon and often causes no symptoms in those affected, making it unclear.

A further study in 2013 connected the pain caused by fibromyalgia to small nerve fiber neuropathy, a type of peripheral neuropathy. However, this link between pain and neuropathy is not yet widely accepted across the medical community. Previously, strong data has indicated a link between small nerve fiber neuropathy and Sjogren syndrome (an autoimmune disease causing dry eyes and mouth), a condition that also causes painful nerve damage. But more research is necessary to establish the same conclusion between fibromyalgia and small nerve fiber neuropathy.

Additional research suggests that the immune system in fibromyalgia patients exhibits a number of irregularities, notably chronic overactivity. Some researchers believe that this serves as proof of its status as an autoimmune disease, but more research is needed to explore this aspect further.

Conclusion

For now, the jury is still out on fibromyalgia's position as an autoimmune disease. At the moment, it cannot be classified as an autoimmune disorder due to its lack of autoimmune antibodies or tissue damage, but with time and the advancement of research, hopefully we will have a better understanding in the coming years.

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avatar Courtney Johnson

Author: Courtney Johnson, Health Writer

Courtney is a content creator at Carenity and focuses on writing health articles. She is particularly passionate about exploring the topics of nutrition, well-being, and psychology.

Courtney holds a double... >> Learn more

1 comment


Cheri333
on 5/13/21

It would appear that the lack of research is the cause of so many of us diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, to be placed in the lowest percentile with regard to well managed healthcare. I don't understand the point of yet another article pointing out that the lack of research and willingness to be a proactive medical provider, means that CPP still lack even a basic classification. As a patient I try to reach out to my medical provider to help him provide me with the medical care that I require. However the olive branch, so to speak, is never taken. I'm left with trying to manage daily severe pain with very little medication ( grateful and luck to have it) and to learn on my own how to manage a disease no one knows anything about and no real direction in Wich to find something in any research that could possibly help me . This is , literally, an exhausting disease. It's hard not to give up. Lack of support and empathy make daily life even harder. To all CPP I suggest that you find some kind of group or therapeutic activity that you can turn to when it seems to be a little too hard to keep up the struggle. 

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