Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome defined by widespread muscle pain, fatigue, sleep dysfunction and cognitive dysfunction. Fibromyalgia pain dysfunction involves an increased sensitivity to pain known as hyperalgesia for example. But we all feel hypersensitive to other stimulus as well. And many of us mention things like sound sensitivity and light sensitivity. Well, there was a 2014 study that demonstrated we are indeed sensitive to this as well but because it was a fMRI study it was small. Still, it was interesting to me.

A recent study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) shows that people with fibromyalgia have hypersensitivity even if events are non-painful based on Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) imaging of the brain. The brain imaging reveals reduced activation in primary sensory regions and increased activation in sensory integration regions. These responses to non-painful stimulus may be the cause of problems with tactile, visual and auditory stimulation. Patients often do report reduced tolerance to environmental and sensory stimulus in addition to the pain.

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The small study included 35 women with fibromyalgia and 25 controls. Patients had an average disease duration of seven years and a mean age of 47. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to analyze the brains response to visual, tactile-motor and auditory stimulation. Patients reported increased subjective sensitivity or unpleasantness in response to this multisensory stimulation in daily life. The results of the fMRI showed patients had reduced “task-evoked activation in primary/secondary visual and auditory areas and augmented responses in the insula and anterior lingual gyrus. Reduced responses in visual and auditory areas were correlated with subjective sensory hyper-sensitivity and clinical severity measures.”

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The study concluded there was a strong “attenuation of brain responses to non-painful events in early sensory cortices, accompanied by an amplified response at later stages of sensory integration in the insula,” and these abnormalities are associated with the main FM symptoms suggesting this maybe be linked to the pathology of the syndrome. Dr. Marina López-Solà from the University of Colorado Boulder stated, “Our study provides new evidence that fibromyalgia patients’ display altered central processing in response to multisensory stimulation, which are linked to core fibromyalgia symptoms and may be part of the disease pathology. The finding of reduced cortical activation in the visual and auditory brain areas that were associated with patient pain complaints may offer novel targets for neurostimulation treatments in fibromyalgia patients.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Marina López-Solà, Jesus Pujol, Tor D. Wager, Alba Garcia-Fontanals, Laura Blanco-Hinojo, Susana Garcia-Blanco, Violant Poca-Dias, Ben J. Harrison, Oren Contreras-Rodríguez, Jordi Monfort, Ferran Garcia-Fructuoso, Joan Deus. Altered fMRI responses to non-painful sensory stimulation in fibromyalgia patients. Arthritis & Rheumatology, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/art.38781

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