For years, many doctors believed that fibromyalgia was psychosomatic, or “all in your head,” because of the wide range of symptoms that couldn’t be scientifically pinpointed. The only real evidence was patient complaints.
The disorder causes deep tissue pain, especially in the hands and feet, with sufferers also reporting sleeping difficulties and problems thinking clearly. Some brain imaging scans did show a loss of gray matter, as well as an increase in pain response, but the cause escaped researchers for years.
A recent breakthrough has finally identified the cause. Dr. Frank Rice, a neuroscientist at Integrated Tissue Dynamics who led the research along with neurologist and pain specialist, Dr. Charles Argoff, found a significant increase in the number of sensory nerve fibers within the palm skin blood vessels of patients who were suffering from fibromyalgia.
Regarding these findings, Rice explained that alterations in core body temperature are a culprit, as the blood acts as a coolant similar to how the radiator of a car keeps the engine cool. The body’s major organs and muscles need to remain at a constant temperature of about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but those suffering from fibromyalgia are unable to maintain this temperature.
Rice explains that if too much heat is lost or gained, the body’s primary thermostat struggles to maintain balance, and blood flow, which is responsible for carrying nutrients and oxygen throughout the body in addition to removing waste, is disrupted.
Problems with temperature regulation ultimately affect nerve fibers, which results in a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles and deeper tissues. This can cause pain that may seem to spread from one area of the body to the next, and may also result in the fatigue that is often reported from those who suffer from the condition.
The increased activity of nerve fibers in colder weather also explains the reason many sufferers experience more pain when it’s chilly outside. As the extremities act as reservoirs, storing blood when the body needs it, such as during physical activity, problems with blood vessels in the hands can interfere with blood flow throughout the entire body – another reason pain is often felt in various muscle groups.
This discovery is likely to lead to better treatments, as well as to a quicker diagnosis, for fibromyalgia sufferers. As it stands now, there are still many medical professionals who don’t believe the disease exists, and dismiss complaints as “hysterical.”
For patients who are suffering, this news that it is indeed a real condition is certainly not a surprise, but it does validate what they’ve already known: fibromyalgia is not psychosomatic, or all in your mind. Don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.
-The Alternative Daily