Is fibromyalgia hereditary?

Ask the doctors

Q. My mother has fibromyalgia, and I think I'm starting to experience similar symptoms. Is fibromyalgia hereditary?

A. Yes. Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that affects some six million or more Americans, can run in families. In fact, one of the most important risk factors for fibromyalgia is a family history of the disorder. Fibromyalgia is sometimes known to affect multiple members of the same family. Your risk rises if you have a first-degree relative — a parent, a brother, sister, or child — with the condition.

A 2004 study in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology found that first-degree relatives of a person with fibromyalgia were 8.5 times more likely to have fibromyalgia than first-degree relatives of people with rheumatoid arthritis. Experts think that this may be the case because a specific chromosome region appears to be involved in fibromyalgia risk. However, while your genes may put you at higher risk for fibromyalgia, environmental factors may also be at play.

If you suspect you may have fibromyalgia, pay a visit to your doctor. The diagnosis will take into account whether you have widespread body pain, especially in specific areas that are typically affected by fibromyalgia, including the back of the head, elbows, knees, hips, shoulders, back, and upper chest. Your doctor will also want to know whether you are experiencing other common symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as fatigue and problems with sleep and concentration.

— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Toni Golen, M.D.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

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