One of the most enduring arguments in the field of medical research is about the relationship between fibromyalgia and autoimmune conditions. Though the prevailing opinion is that fibromyalgia is not itself an autoimmune condition, it’s hard to deny the obvious link between fibromyalgia and a wide range of autoimmune conditions. And a lot of conditions like vasculitis can mimic the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Vasculitis is a condition characterized by swelling of the blood vessels. And while it can be devastating on its own, it’s worth noting that it, like many other autoimmune conditions, has a unique relationship with fibromyalgia. So what is vasculitis? How is it related to fibromyalgia? And how is it treated?
What Is Vasculitis?
Vasculitis is an autoimmune condition that affects the blood vessels. An autoimmune condition is essentially a disease that causes your body’s immune system to turn against you. In a healthy immune system, the white blood cells produce something called “antibodies.” These antibodies identify and destroy foreign cells like bacteria and viruses.
But, when you suffer from an autoimmune disease, these antibodies instead begin attacking your own cells. No one is sure why this happens, but it seems most likely to be related to genetics.
In cases of vasculitis, these antibodies attack the lining of your blood vessels. As a result, they become swollen and inflamed. That inflammation means they can’t transport blood cells through the body normally. Over time, this can lead to cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes.
And the inflammation can damage organs throughout the body like the heart and lungs. Eventually, this damage can cause them to shut down, which results in death in many cases. So vasculitis can sometimes be life-threatening.
How Is It Related To Fibromyalgia?
Vasculitis causes symptoms that are very similar to other autoimmune diseases like lupus. We’ve discussed many times on this site the relationship between fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases. Essentially, having an autoimmune condition puts you at an elevated risk of developing fibromyalgia, and vice-versa. Thus, having fibromyalgia puts you at a higher risk of vasculitis.
But the symptoms of these conditions almost always include things like fatigue, muscle pain, memory loss, and sleep disorders. That means that they can mimic the symptoms of fibromyalgia. That, of course, makes getting an accurate diagnosis tricky sometimes when you have both fibromyalgia and an autoimmune condition.
There are a few things your doctor will look for to make a distinction between the two conditions. First, they will look for signs of autoimmune conditions. Eliminating this possibility is a bit easier since there are blood tests they can perform to look for elevated levels of antibodies in the blood.
Secondly, they will look for the trademark sign of fibromyalgia, which is the pain located in 18 tender points. This specifically localized pain is the best indication that you’re suffering from fibromyalgia.
How Is It Treated?
Vasculitis is treated in the same way as most other autoimmune conditions. The real risk of these conditions comes from the inflammation they cause. It’s this inflammation that gradually destroys the cells of the body and causes organ damage.
Luckily, there are ways to treat inflammation. One of the most common ways that doctors treat the condition is with something called “glucocorticoid.” These are a form of steroids that the body naturally releases in response to inflammation. By prescribing synthetic forms of this hormone, doctors can bolster your body’s natural ability to cure inflammation.
In addition, your doctor may wish to prescribe a form of immunosuppressant drug. Basically, these drugs work by weakening your immune system. This causes your white blood cells to produce fewer antibodies. This, in turn, leads to less inflammation due to the fact that there are fewer antibodies available to attack your cells.
Obviously, these kinds of drugs carry the risk of making your more vulnerable to infection by disease. But they can be a life-saving option when an autoimmune condition threatens vital organs.
And depending on how advanced the disease is, surgery may become necessary. The most common forms of surgery for people who suffer from vasculitis are a vein graft and organ transplant. In a vein graft surgery, the doctor essentially moves healthy veins to another area of the body to bypass a section of vein damaged by inflammation. And organ transplants are simply replacing a damaged organ with a functional one. They are sometimes necessary when the damage to the kidneys or liver is severe.
Let us know, do you suffer from vasculitis? What about another autoimmune condition? Does it seem to be related to your fibromyalgia? Tell us in the comments.