It sometimes feels like we’re learning something new about fibromyalgia every day. And usually, the major medical breakthroughs provide evidence for things that people who are actually suffering from fibromyalgia have known for a long time.
For instance, if you spend enough time in the fibromyalgia community you’ll hear stories of people who were abused as children. Maybe you were even a victim yourself. But while these kinds of stories are prevalent, there hasn’t been much attention drawn to the idea that maybe these two issues are related. But it turns out fibromyalgia and childhood trauma may be much more closely linked than we ever thought.
Let’s look at the evidence.
The Link Between Fibromyalgia And Childhood Trauma
People in the fibromyalgia community have known for a long time that there seems to be an unusually high prevalence of childhood abuse among fellow fibro warriors. In fact, among people with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, almost 48% in a recent study had a history of being abused. Now compare that number to an estimate of what the rate of childhood abuse is in the general population (25%).
So essentially, those numbers suggest that people with chronic pain were almost twice as likely to report having been abused as the general public. Now, the fact that people experience fibromyalgia and childhood trauma together at a higher rate than the general public doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a connection. As the old saying goes, correlation and causation are not the same thing.
But that huge disparity suggests that there must be some link between fibromyalgia and childhood trauma. And as a result, scientists who study fibromyalgia are beginning to look closely at the issue. A number of recent studies have examined this link between fibromyalgia and childhood trauma and found that there is a definite relationship between the two.
In fact, the two are so closely related that having suffered childhood abuse is now seen as a significant risk factor for developing fibromyalgia. That means that experiencing childhood trauma actually seems to play some role in causing you to develop fibromyalgia. So why is it that childhood trauma seems to make you more likely to develop fibromyalgia?
How Childhood Trauma Contributes To Fibromyalgia
Let’s preface this by saying that childhood trauma will not, by itself, cause you to have fibromyalgia. No one knows for sure what causes fibromyalgia, or what specifically is happening in the body of someone with fibromyalgia as opposed to someone who doesn’t have the disease.
But there does seem to be a mechanism through which traumatic events in your childhood makes you more likely to develop fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, any idea about what this is specifically is just speculation at this point.
However, a good candidate for this mechanism would be stress. The relationship between stress and fibromyalgia is already well documented. Stress not only makes the symptoms of fibromyalgia worse and causes flare ups, it actually seems to change the way your brain is structured according to the National Institute of Health.
So what’s the link between fibromyalgia and childhood trauma? Well, think about it. We know that stress changes the way your brain works, and who can imagine a more stressful experience than living with childhood trauma. After all, that kind of suffering doesn’t stop when you’re a child.
It strikes you when you’re most vulnerable and your brain is still developing. And then it follows you for the rest of your life.
So essentially childhood trauma changes the structure of your brain. And if fibromyalgia is a condition that originates in the brain as many doctors now believe, then it makes sense that these negative changes make you more likely to develop fibromyalgia later in life. But even if fibromyalgia doesn’t originate in the brain but in the immune system as some believe, then stress would still account for this mechanism.
Chronic stress weakens your immune system. But counter-intuitively, it can also make it more active by increasing your body’s production of cytokine cells, which are the source of immune system inflammation. So it could be that the chronic stress of childhood trauma is triggering the immune system cycles that cause fibro-like tissue flare ups.
What Can You Do?
One of the most important things to do when you’re a victim of childhood trauma is to get the proper emotional support. This is never truer than when you are also dealing with fibromyalgia, which by itself is emotionally crippling. See a therapist or seek out the support of other people in the fibromyalgia community.
In fact, studies suggest that not only will talk therapy help you deal with the emotional pain, but it can less your fibromyalgia pain as well.
So what do you think? Are your fibromyalgia and childhood trauma linked? Let us know in the comments.