Posted by: nashuafibrosupport | May 12, 2012

Are you genetically predisposed?

Have you ever wondered how and where you got Fibromyalgia?  Why do you have it? How did you get it? Did you inherit this disorder from your parents? Have you always had it and not known?

I did. I still do. As I learned more and more about my disorder I started noticing a unique resemblance to my father’s condition. For as long as I can remember he has complained of back pain, hip pain, joint pain overall. He’s always had trouble sleeping, feels exhausted most days, and had started to get angry about being sick all the time. This has been going on for the past 20 years. It got to the point where, when he complained about a new pain, we would just think “it’s another one of dad’s ailments”. After I was diagnosed and understood better what FMS is and entails, I decided to ask him. I asked about his symptoms and explained Fibromyalgia, which he’d never heard of. I explained how I felt and, the more we compared notes, the more similar our symptoms were. To my surprise, when I asked about his diagnosis, he mentioned “Diabetic neuropathic pain” (DNP).  If you look it up, it is another collection of symptoms that could easily overlap with FMS. When I asked about his treatment, it turned out he was prescribed the exact same medication that I had been prescribed with for FMS, in a stronger dose. I have since done extensive research on DNP and FMS, and am 90% confident he has FMS. His diabetes started only 5 yrs ago; the fact that he was experiencing the remaining symptoms so many years prior was still unexplained. Perhaps he has both and the doctor’s have not figured it out.

This led me on the path of investigating genetic predisposition and the applicability to Fibromyalgia.

Genetic predisposition

Many experts believe that genetic causes of fibromyalgia (FMS) are possible, but what does “genetic predisposition” mean, exactly?

If you’re genetically predisposed to a disease or condition, it means that your risk of contracting it is higher simply because of your genetic makeup. It does not, however, mean that you will definitely come down with the illness. Typically, something else would have to come into play. For instance, someone with a genetic predisposition to fibromyalgia may not develop it until she is exposed to long-term stress then suffers physical or emotional trauma.

Genes appear to play an important role in fibromyalgia, so you could be genetically predisposed to the disorder. Researchers have found that some people with fibromyalgia have genes that affect the way the body transmits pain signals. These genes affect brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and catecholamines that control the experience of pain. But while you can always blame mom for giving you that weird hairdo when you were eight, don’t blame her for giving you FMS. Just having a genetic predisposition doesn’t mean you’ll get fibromyalgia.

From the ProHealth website:

New research using twins may point to a genetic predisposition to FMS. Both identical and fraternal female twins were examined at the University of Washington. In Phase One of a two-phase study, several interesting results were found. Out of 74 sets of female identical twins, 34% of both twins had FM. In 23 sets of fraternal twins, only 4% of both had FM.

Doctors can perform genetic tests to reveal predispositions to certain diseases, but because the possible genetic components of fibromyalgia remain a mystery, they can’t test you for them. If you have close family members with one of the conditions, though, you’re considered at risk for developing it yourself and may want to identify your risk factors and work to mitigate them.

Trigger(s) / Stressor(s)

Are you able to pinpoint the moment FMS started? I believe mine started during my second pregnancy. I had a difficult pregnancy and an extremely hard and long delivery with my first born, and felt somewhat apprehensive about being pregnant and delivering again. I had asked my doctor to guarantee that we would do a C-section, I thought I wouldn’t suffer and the baby would be born healthy. I had just found out I was pregnant when we decided we needed a bigger place. As we went through the very stressful process of trying to sell a condo in this economy and buying a house, I started feeling exhausted, overwhelmed. At 6 mos. pregnancy and about 25 more lbs., I was working full time, taking care of my 2 yr old, packing boxes, painting, moving, etc. Half our things hadn’t been unpacked when the baby was born. The baby was born with gastric reflux, which led to many sleepless nights, screams, and a whole lot of stress. I distinctly remember feeling numb, achy, flu-like ALL the time. I was emotionally happy yet my body was reflecting a totally different story. I was then diagnosed with post-partum depression, which I was sure I didn’t have. It wasn’t until years later that I received a formal FMS diagnosis (see my story here).

From what I’ve read Fibromyalgia could also be caused by a trigger. Current research indicates that people are not born with Fibromyalgia, but a trigger or stressor “turns on” the disorder. The most common triggers are high levels of stress, surgery, labor, car crash, fall, any major physical or emotional impact on the body. There are also general triggers which cost FMS flares. Some people relate their flares to food, others to physical activity and stress.

The impact of stress on people with Fibromyalgia is huge! Stress can make your symptoms worse and even generate specific physical symptoms. Stress management techniques such as exercise, meditation, warm bath, good night’s sleep, and knowing your limitations can have significant impact on your well being. I use running and yoga as my favorite exercises, but the most recommended exercises are low impact such as walking, elliptical, cycling, and swimming.  (Read about how running changed my life here).

Lessons learned

When you visit any doctor’s office they typically ask you about your family medical history. If you’re anything like me you probably think “geez, what are the illnesses in my family?” We are not always aware of the details of illnesses on close family members. What I’ve learned is, not only should we know their history, but we should also pay close attention to their symptoms, as there is always the possibility of a misdiagnosis. You should also know that the children of Fibromyalgia patients have twice the risk of contracting the disease. Don’t let this alarm you though; this risk is still low enough that it is highly unlikely that they will develop the disorder.

Identifying your original trigger is important in order to enable you to reduce future impact. For instance, if your trigger was surgery, labor/delivery, or similar controllable situations, you might be able to decrease the probability that these things will happen to you again, eliminating further pain and/or managing stress appropriately. Knowing your day to day triggers will help you avoid recurring flares and additional stress as a consequence of the pain.

Lastly, finding ways to manage your stress will prove to significantly reduce the amount of pain and physical symptoms experienced. Massage therapy, acupuncture, and meditation techniques might help accomplish this.

Are you genetically predisposed? Have you identified your triggers? How many are there?  Share your story here…

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