Fibromyalgia in the Family

Is Fibromyalgia Hereditary Disease?

Like other rheumatic diseases, fibromyalgia could be the result of a genetic tendency that's passed from mother to daughter. Some researchers believe that a person's genes may regulate the way his or her body processes painful stimuli. These scientists theorize that people with fibromyalgia may have a gene or genes that cause them to react intensely to stimuli that most people would not perceive as painful. Several genes have been found to occur more often in people with fibromyalgia.

It's thought that when a person with this genetic tendency is exposed to certain emotional or physical stressors -- such as a traumatic crisis or a serious illness -- there is a change in the body's response to stress. This change can result in a higher sensitivity of the entire body to pain.

Fibromyalgia isn't passed directly from parents to children, but the disorder does appear to cluster within families. The odds of developing fibromyalgia are several times higher in the immediate families of people with fibromyalgia than in families in which no one has fibromyalgia. In fact, studies of DNA from family members of people with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes have turned up a number of genes that could help explain why these disorders seem to run in families.

Each of these genes plays a role in your nervous system's response to pain. Some of the same genes are also associated with depression and anxiety, which may be the reason why certain antidepressant medications help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms.

What Are Risk Factors for Fibromyalgia?

Risk factors are distinct characteristics researchers have identified that may increase your chance of getting a certain illness. While researchers have identified some common risk factors for fibromyalgia, there are still many people with the disease who have none of these traits. Also, some women have fibromyalgia with certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or other autoimmune diseases. But others have fibromyalgia without any underlying disease.

Possible risk factors for fibromyalgia include:

  • Gender (usually female)
  • Genetic disposition (may be inherited)
  • Menopause (loss of estrogen)
  • Poor physical conditioning
  • Surgery
  • Trauma to the brain or spinal cord (after an injury, accident, illness, or emotional stress)

Fibromyalgia in Children

Yet when kids complain of vague symptoms, like fatigue, achiness, and difficulty sleeping, they could be experiencing any one of a number of common illnesses. One condition that's easy to overlook in children and teens is fibromyalgia, which causes pain in the muscles and soft tissues surrounding the joints. Fibromyalgia can be hard to spot in children because it's much more common in adults. Most of the time fibromyalgia affects women over age 18. Even so, between 1 % and 7 % of children are thought to have fibromyalgia or similar conditions.

Fibromyalgia is part of a group of conditions collectively known as musculoskeletal pain syndrome (MSPS). In children, fibromyalgia is called juvenile primary fibromyalgia syndrome (JPFS). If a child also has arthritis or another disease related to the fibromyalgia, it's called juvenile secondary fibromyalgia syndrome.

Here's how to spot the symptoms of fibromyalgia in teens and children, and what to do if you suspect your child has it.

Fibromyalgia in Teens and Children: What Causes It?

No one really knows what causes fibromyalgia. The condition tends to run in families, although no gene has been discovered yet. Researchers have linked fibromyalgia to a number of other health conditions, including immune, endocrine, psychological, and biochemical problems.

Just as fibromyalgia in adults is more likely to affect women, child and teen fibromyalgia occurs more often in girls than in boys. Most girls with the condition are diagnosed between ages 13 and 15.

Fibromyalgia Symptoms in Children and Teens

One of the main symptoms of child fibromyalgia is sore spots on the muscles. These spots hurt when pressure is put on them, which is why they're called "tender points." To find these points, the doctor will press with his or her thumb on 18 areas that tend to be painful in people with fibromyalgia. Kids who have fibromyalgia will feel tenderness in at least five of these spots. They'll also have been experiencing aches and pains for at least three months.

The soreness can start in just one part of the body, but eventually it can affect other areas. Children with fibromyalgia have described the pain in many different ways, including stiffness, tightness, tenderness, burning, or aching. Other symptoms of fibromyalgia in teens and children include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping and waking up tired
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Stomachache
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Dizziness
  • Restless legs while sleeping

Fibromyalgia in Parents

It is hard enough being a parent, but being a parent with fibromyalgia syndrome will make it even harder. There are a few hints and tips that make life just that little bit easier.

Friends, family, and parents of other children, can offer a lot of support on bad days, allowing children to play, stay for meals, and even stay over. It is a good idea to have someone who could pick up the children in an emergency – perhaps a family member or a friend – and having a secret phrase will reassure the child that all is well. Not all days will be bad days, and parents with fibromyalgia syndrome should take the opportunity of good days to take turns with childcare, spending quality fun time with their children, and their children’s friends.

Being a parent can be very tiring at the best of times, and it is even worse with fibromyalgia syndrome. While children are young, take the opportunity to have a nap while they do, and as they get older, work rest times around times that they are playing quietly, perhaps in a playpen where you know they are safe, or are visiting friends or going to a nursery.

If possible, get help with some of the jobs around the house, for example the laundry, or the cleaning, from a supportive partner, friend or family member, or pay a cleaner for a few hours a week. Spending time with children is far more important than spending time washing clothes, or cleaning under the bed. As children get older, they can also help with the jobs around the house, and will learn important skills doing this. Each child could have his or her own job, or could help to plan a rota, and jobs can be set to music, or made into a family game.

Activities for Bad Days

Keep a ‘quiet day box’ including stock of books, DVDs, craft activities and quiet games, for the children on days when fibromyalgia syndrome symptoms flare up. This means that the family can still spend time together, reading, playing board games, making things, drawing, or watching a film.

Teaching Children about Fibromyalgia Syndrome

It’s a good idea to explain to children about fibromyalgia syndrome as soon as they are old enough to understand, especially so that they understand that sometimes you can’t play with them, not because you don’t want to, but because of tiredness or pain. Try and do this without making the child feel too worried or afraid.

How Do I Explain Fibromyalgia to my Family and Friends?

It is extremaly important to explain fibromyalgia to family members and friends. There is simply no single theory that explains the cause of fibromyalgia. Neither do we know what causes fibromyalgia to flare up.

Whatever the cause, the unending pain, tender points, and insomnia or sleep problems tend to increase any fatigue and depression you feel. This, in turn, can lead to increased anxiety, reduced activity, and greater pain. Disordered sleep, even lack of REM sleep, can reduce your energy levels. If it continues over time, it can lead to a decrease in the body's ability to repair damaged tissues.

Once your doctor makes a proper fibromyalgia diagnosis, effective treatment for fibromyalgia can be started. That way, you can manage the symptoms and preserve your quality of life.

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