Q: I know more than 20 people who had undergone surgery with general anesthesia before developing fibromyalgia. Could this be a coincidence?

A: No studies have uncovered a link between surgery with general anesthesia and the development of fibromyalgia. It’s understandable that you want to know what caused your condition, but it usually is not possible to confirm a “cause-and-effect” relationship between two relatively common occurrences such as undergoing surgery and developing fibromyalgia. I often use the analogy that fibromyalgia could be caused by exposure to brown carpet; that is, nearly everyone who has the disease was in a room or building with brown carpet sometime before developing it. Exact triggers of most diseases, including fibromyalgia, remain unknown. 

Fortunately, doctors don’t need to know how or why someone develops fibromyalgia to treat it. Researchers are looking for causes and triggers of these diseases to find the best treatment and to prevent them from occurring in other people. Someday we’ll have a better understanding of what causes fibromyalgia and other rheumatic conditions.

Keep in mind that the cause of your fibromyalgia is much less important than what you are doing about it now. I recommend working with your doctor to find the most effective ways to control your pain and other symptoms. Treatments that might help you include regular physical exercise, relaxation techniques, and antidepressant and analgesic medications to promote deep sleep and ease muscle pain.

Daniel Clauw, MD, Rheumatologist