Study Finds Many Fibromyalgia Patients Have Nerve Damage

Nearly half of the fibromyalgia patients in a small study were found to have damaged nerve fibers in their skin, according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital. The findings, published in the journal Pain, could lead to better treatment for patients who have the chronic pain disorder.

bigstock-Woman-touching-her-leg--pain--20349485Researchers followed 27 adult fibromyalgia patients and 30 healthy subjects. In addition to nerve damage, they found signs of a disease known as small-fiber polyneuropathy (SFPN) in some of the fibromyalgia patients. Fibromyalgia has no known cause, but SFPN is caused by medical conditions such as diabetes and glucose intolerance. It is often treated with anti-depressants, anticonvulsants or opioid painkillers.

“This provides some of the first objective evidence of a mechanism behind some cases of fibromyalgia, and identifying an underlying cause is the first step towards finding better treatments,”  lead author Anne Lousie Oaklander, director of the Nerve Injury Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood disorder that is characterized by deep tissue pain, fatigue, headaches, depression and lack of sleep. Many of the symptoms mirror those of SFPN, a form of peripheral neuropathy that causes severe pain that usually originates in the hands or feet.

Thirteen of the 27 fibromyalgia patients in the study had a notable reduction in nerve fiber density, indicating SFPN. While diabetes is a common cause of SFPN, none of the patients were diabetic. Over half of the patients showed signs of an immune system dysfunction.

“Until now, there has been no good idea about what causes fibromyalgia, but now we have evidence for some but not all patients. Fibromyalgia is too complex for a ‘one size fits all’ explanation,” said Oaklander.

“The next step of independent confirmation of our findings from other laboratories is already happening, and we also need to follow those patients who didn’t meet SFPN criteria to see if we can find other causes.”

In contrast to the Massachusetts study, researchers at Albany Medical College and Integrated Tissue Dynamics recently reported that fibromyalgia patients had more, not less, nerve fibers in the blood vessels in the palms of their hands. The excess nerve fibers appeared to disrupt the normal flow of blood through the hands and possibly throughout the body, according to a study published in Pain Medicine.

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7 Responses

  1. Marian says:

    This article described a weird symptom I have. The palms and wrists of my hands go blue on occasion, often. If I run hot water over them it subsides. So, maybe the hot water increases the blood flow! Hands don’t hurt but sometimes fingers go numb. I do not have diabetes.
    DeeDee, my shoulders have started in the last yr. driving me crazy itching- I thought it was just excema or something. Cordison creams helps a little. Strange symptoms, haven’t even told my Dr.

  2. John Quintner says:

    @ DeeDee. My quick search of the recent scientific literature provides at least a partial answer to your question, one that has long mystified clinicians and researchers.

    In a paper published in Science (May 2013), Mishra and Hoon state as follows: “Thus, our results define the primary pruriceptive* neurons, characterize Npppb (natriuretic polypeptide b) as an itch-selective neuropeptide, and reveal the next two stages of this dedicated neuronal pathway.

    *itch = pruritis in Latin

  3. DeeDee says:

    I have been diagnosis-ed with Fibromyalgia over 10 years ago..I have all of the symptoms as well as a few extra’s I’m afraid. I do not have diabetes but it does run in my family. I have extreme pain in my feet but that is because of a diagnosis of arthritis and heal factitious. My hands do go numb at times but without any real pain. My question is that I have extreme itching on my upper extremities, more then anything with both upper arms and shoulders. It is the worst in the evening and at night. Does this seem to be because of two many nerve endings being over active? The itching is so very bad and I’ve tried so many RX’s that just do not help enough. Thhe itching is almost as bad as any deep pain that I endure. If you have any ides’s pls contact me. Thank You…

  4. Alice says:

    I have had intense itching in the center of the bottom of my right foot for four straight years now with no relief. Dr. Says it has to do with nerves but no rx for it. Not painful at all though. Could this be connected somehow?

  5. Joan Wingo says:

    I have major problems with my aching feet. Gabapentin helps a little. Zostrix cream helps a little. I need a lot of help. I sure hope the researchers can find an answer.

  6. Betty Smith says:

    At this time I have to take 9(nine) Neurontin a day plus a strong hydrocodone as needed. I was prescribed Lyrica and I gained 70 lbs I did not need,but it works pretty good.

  7. I suffer from nerve in the feet problems.

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