A new research conducted
showed that patients suffering from fibromyalgia are hypersensitive to
non-painful events. This was evident from the brain scan images that showed
reduced activation in its primary sensory regions and augmented activation in
its sensory integration areas.
This important finding was
published in Arthritis and Rheumatology journal of American College of
Rheumatology (ACR). It is further indicated that these brain abnormalities in
response to non-painful sensory stimulation may lead to greater repulsiveness
that patients experience in reply to every day visual, auditory and tactile
chronic, musculoskeletal syndrome is identified by pervasive pain and affects
about 2% of world population. As per the ACR, there are 5 million people in the
US alone known to have fibromyalgia and is more seen in women than men. Earlier
studies reported that patients with fibromyalgia have reduced tolerance towards
normal sensory stimulation (auditory, visual, olfactory, and tactile), besides
to greater pain sensitivity.
The present study involved
35 women patients having fibromyalgia and 25 healthy age matched controls. Functional magnetic resonance
was used as a diagnostic test for assessing brain
response to sensory stimulation. Average duration of the disease of patients in
this study was 7 years with a mean age of 47.
As per the study, patients
showed greater level of disagreeableness in reply to multisensory stimulation
in daily life events. In addition, fMRI test presented abridged activation in
sensory integration regions. These kind of brain abnormalities facilitated the
increased disagreeableness to visual, auditory and tactile stimulation that
patients conveyed experiencing in daily life.
In a statement issued by Dr.
Marina López-Solà, a lead author from the Institute of Cognitive Science,
University of Colorado Boulder stated that their study provides new evidence on
patients suffering from fibromyalgia. These patients have altered central
processing in regards to multisensory stimulation, that is linked to core
fibromyalgia symptoms and which may be a part of disease pathology. This
critical finding of decreased cortical activation in the visual and auditory
brain areas of patients may provide new targets for neuro-stimulation treatments
Fibromyalgia patients show
higher level of pain after sensory stimulation, as evident tissue damage is
normally lacking. This kind of extravagant pain could be also explained by
hyperexcitability to central nervous system. A case control study involving 22
fibromyalgia patients was done to evaluate a spinal reflex, for understanding
the excitability state of spinal cord neurons. Two types of transcutaneous
electrical stimulation (single stimuli and 5 repeated stimuli at 2 hertz) of
the sural nerve was applied on these patients. Electromyography was then recorded
from biceps femoral muscle. Primary outcome measure was to check minimum
current intensity causing a spinal reflex (reflex threshold). Spinal reflexes
were comparatively lower than the control group after both single (P=0.001) and
repeated stimulation (P= 0.046). This proved spinal cord hyperexcitability in
fibromyalgia patients, which can cause inflated pain after low intensity
nociceptive or innocuous peripheral stimulation. Spinal hypersensitivity can
therefore explain to some extent, pain in absence of detectable damage to the
nonnoxious sensory stimuli could also contribute to higher stress levels in
daily life. To evaluate this a descriptive study was done on 27 women with
fibromyalgia, which were compared with women with rheumatoid arthritis
healthy pain-free women as controls (n=28). The participants in the study were
asked if they were sensitive to sensations that had no effect on other people
or they avoid activities or environments that can affect them. Significantly
increased sensory sensitivities to both somatic (tactile) and nonsomatic (like
auditory and olfactory) sensory stimuli was recorded in fibromyalgia patients
as compared to rheumatoid arthritis and control groups. However, rheumatoid
arthritis and control groups exhibited no difference in reported
hypersensitivities. Hypersensitivity to nonnoxious sensory stimuli in daily
life could thus experience an increased stress.
It is a condition in which
there is an inflated immune response towards external stimuli. People suffering
from fibromyalgia are likely to have intense and unpleasant response to things
(bright light, loud noise, strong smell, and rough texture and body pressure)
that affects senses. The unpleasant response may also be towards certain foods
and chemicals. According to research conducted, pain in fibromyalgia is caused
by malfunction, in the way body processes these pain. End result of this
malfunction leads to hypersensitivity to stimuli, which are not really painful.
Brain scans of people having fibromyalgia illustrates non-painful stimuli like
sound and touch, inversely than the normal people. This therefore explains why
fibromyalgia patients often complain of hypersensitivity towards sensations in
their daily life.
Fibromyalgia is considered a
disorder related to stress due to frequent onset and worsening of pain
symptoms. It is a baffling condition, which predominantly affects women more
than men and characterised by unexplained, chronic musculoskeletal pain. The
disorder is also linked with increased fatigue, disturbances in sleep and
elevated levels of stress reactivity and anxiety.
As no clear cause and effect
relationship is established between brain and chemical activity
(neurotransmitters) and pain or sensory perception. It could be that the
disorder results due to effect of pain and stress on the central nervous system
(CNS) that leads to changes in brain circuitry. This has clearly been depicted
in brain imaging studies, which shows CNS disturbances occurring in response to
brain stimulation. Abnormal increase in blood flow have also been indicated in
brain scans that defines intensity of pain. A decreased blood flow is linked
with emotional response to pain.
The origin and underlying
mechanisms of this disorder is not yet well portrayed.
Fibromyalgia can affect
senses at all levels and make life more complex. Managing hypersensitivity is
the best way and avoid things that leads to botheration. Measures by which
intensity and severity of symptoms can be reduced are: avoiding triggers,
controlling environment, reducing stress, eating well to improve immune system
and educating family and friends.
People suffering from
fibromyalgia suffer from pain that is unbearable. Research indicates that
fibromyalgia can be caused by a problem in how body processes pain, or more
definitively, a hypersensitivity to stimuli which is non-painful. If things in
daily life can cause sensory overload, it can only lead to struggle.
to Non-Painful Events May Be Part of Pathology in Fibromyalgia. Arthritis &
Rheumatology. Updated September 15, 2014. Available from: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-112105.html
2. Banic B, et.al.
Evidence for spinal cord hypersensitivity in chronic pain after whiplash injury
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3. Wilbarger JL,
Cook DB. Multisensory Hypersensitivity in Women With Fibromyalgia: Implications
for Well Being and Intervention. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2011 Apr; 92(4):
and Sensory Perception. Accessed July 29 2015. Available from: http://www.fibromyalgia-symptoms.org/heightened-sensory-perception-fibro.html