How Fibromyalgia Is Closely Linked To The Body’s Immune System

Care2cure Physiotherapy

At this point in time, there are currently no effective treatments for fibromyalgia. What exactly is this? For those unfamiliar with the term, this refers to a chronic condition that causes widespread pain, sleep problems, fatigue, and emotional distress those who suffer from it.

While doctors and experts have yet to point out what the underlying causes may be, some research has pointed out the fact that the root may stem from the immune system. They saw this when a study found that antibodies from people with fibromyalgia induce symptoms of the disease in mice. This finding strongly suggests that fibromyalgia could actually be an autoimmune disorder. While much has yet to be discovered, this finding could lead to better diagnostic blood tests and more effective treatments for those who suffer from the disease.


All about Fibromyalgia

People who suffer from fibromyalgia experience chronic pain and sensitivity to pressure and cold. This happens all over their body. Moreover, they may also experience trouble sleeping, or suffer from fatigue and emotional distress.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 4 million adults in the United States suffer from fibromyalgia. This means that there are around 2 percent of the adult population living with the disease, and according to many estimates, 80 percent of those who have the condition are female.

When it comes to fibromyalgia, there is no cure. Fortunately, there are treatments available, but these are limited to relieving symptoms such as pain relief medication and antidepressants. Doctors also urge those who have it to make lifestyle changes such as making time for physical activity and improving personal sleep habits.

While the researchers are not quite sure about the causes behind fibromyalgia, there are some clues available that indicates how the immune system might be responsible. For instance, those who have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, both of which are considered autoimmune disorders, are more likely than others to develop the condition.

Autoimmune disorders happen when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. However, there has been no point-blank evidence that this occurs in fibromyalgia. A research team of scientists at King’s College London and the University of Liverpool, both in the United Kingdom, and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, now says that many fibromyalgia symptoms happen when the person’s antibodies increase the activity of the body’s pain-sensing nerves. They came up with this conclusion when they injected antibodies from people with fibromyalgia into mice. They noticed that the animals became more sensitive to unpleasant stimuli. They also grew weaker. This evidence was seen when the researchers saw how the mice moved around less.

Ironically, neither injections of antibodies from healthy controls nor serum from people with fibromyalgia with the antibodies removed had any effect on the rodents. The antibodies attached itself to the cells in the dorsal root ganglia. These clusters of neurons send sensory signals from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system, This means that the brain and spinal cord get the signal. More details about the research have been featured in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.


Profound Implications

David Andersson, Ph.D., who was the study’s principal investigator at King’s, talked about the research and said, “The implications of this study are profound.” He also said, “Establishing that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder will transform how we view the condition and should pave the way for more effective treatments for the millions of people affected.”

Dr. Andreas Goebel, M.Sc., Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator from the University of Liverpool, shared how he expected some cases of fibromyalgia to be autoimmune when he first started the research in the UK. “But David’s team has discovered pain-causing antibodies in each recruited patient,” he explained. “The results offer amazing hope that the invisible, devastating symptoms of fibromyalgia will become treatable,” he further stated.

More importantly, antibodies from people who have to live with fibromyalgia appear to sensitize nociceptors. These said nociceptors are nerves found in the skin. These are in charge of sending pain signals to the brain when they sense and detect extremes of temperature and pressure or when they are exposed to noxious chemicals.

The mice’s symptoms completely disappeared within 2 to 3 weeks after the injection. They have managed to clear the human antibodies from their systems within that time, which suggests how therapies that selectively reduce antibody levels in the bloodstream could actually work for them.

Prof. Camilla Svensson, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator from the Karolinska Institute, said, “The next step will be to identify what factors the symptom-inducing antibodies bind to.” She also added, “This will help us not only in terms of developing novel treatment strategies for [fibromyalgia], but also of blood-based tests for diagnosis, which are missing today.”

The good news is that therapeutic techniques have already been made available. These were designed to reduce the overall level of antibodies in the bloodstream or to remove specific autoimmune antibodies that are detrimental to health. Alternatively, scientists could also finally come up with drugs that are able to prevent these antibodies from binding to their targets. While developments have yet to be made in this field, it does look optimistic.


A Word of Precaution

Des Quinn, the chairman of the charity Fibromyalgia Action UK, shared how researchers had debates about this disease. They wondered whether or not fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder for years. While the new results were more than welcome, he was still very cautious about its future. He talked to Medical News Today about this and said, “If these results can be replicated and expanded upon, then the prospect of a biomarker or a new treatment for people with fibromyalgia would be extraordinary.” He further stated, “However, the results need further confirmation and investigation before the outcomes can be applied universally.”

Quinn also noted that a diagnostic biomarker is badly needed. That’s because some doctors still consider fibromyalgia a “wastebasket diagnosis.” This is the term used for a vague, unproven diagnosis that has such a broad definition. However, it is also scientifically meaningless. He explained, “It would also be interesting to investigate how these findings relate to other symptoms of fibromyalgia — such as fatigue, sleep disturbance, and cognitive issues — as fibromyalgia impacts with more than just pain symptoms.”

At this point in time, the research is still very much far from over. More work needs to be done and while the initial findings are indeed impressive, this needs to be backed by more data in order to get support from those in the medical field.