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Scientists are studying whether fibromyalgia has any effect on the immune system. This much is known: The symptoms of fibromyalgia can mimic those of common autoimmune disorders. An autoimmune disorder occurs when the body's immune system, which normally defends against germs and other invaders, mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, and others can cause symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems. These are also common symptoms of fibromyalgia. If you are experiencing these and other symptoms, particularly persistent pain, see your doctor.
Fibromyalgia's relationship with the immune system remains a bit of a mystery. The immune system is your body's defense system. It springs into action when germs enter the body, rallying chemical defenders to kill bacteria, viruses, and other threats. However, sometimes the immune system develops a glitch and attacks healthy tissue. That's the problem in lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases.
Here's where things can get a little confusing. If you have fibromyalgia, you may be referred to a rheumatologist. These doctors treat autoimmune disorders. However, the key feature of these diseases, inflammation, doesn't occur in fibromyalgia. And some common treatments used to reduce inflammation haven't proven effective for fibromyalgia in studies.
But just to add a twist, studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia often do have high levels of immune cells called cytokines -- which are needed to produce inflammation. This much is clear: The link between fibromyalgia and the immune system needs further study.
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