BOULDER, Colo. – The brain scans of people suffering from fibromyalgia are showing they processes non-painful stimuli differently than people who do not suffer from the disease.

The study, lead by Marina López-Solà, PhD, from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said fibromyalgia patients process sound and touch with more sensitivity, and this is why they complain of hypersensitivity to those events, according to images taken using functional magnetic resonance.
The study, published online September 15 in Arthritis & Rheumatism, shows patients with fibromyalgia processed visual, auditory, and tactile sensations with reduced brain activity in primary sensory processing areas. Their brains then combined these perceptions with higher activity in sensory integration areas, such as the insula, when compared to images of individuals without fibromyalgia.

All 35 study participants were women located in Barcelona, Spain. They were right-handed and underwent neurological exams that showed they had normal vision and hearing. All remained on prescribed medical treatments but were asked to avoid analgesics for 72 hours prior to imaging.

Control patients with chronic or acute pain, substance abuse or a history of psychiatric illness and other relevant disorders were excluded from the study’s control group.

López-Solà said the above processing abnormalities may explain why fibromyalgia patients sometimes avoid wearing sunglasses indoors or why they withdraw from social activities as loud conversations.

The study should help doctors realize the connection between pain and hypersensitivity and to help them understand pain symptoms in patients who seem to “complain basically about everything,” López-Solà said.

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