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Small fiber neuropathy in women with fibromyalgia. An in vivo assessment using corneal confocal bio-microscopy

Manuel Ramírez, Laura-Aline Martínez-Martínez, Everardo Hernández-Quintela, Jorge Velazco-Casapía, Angélica Vargas, Manuel Martínez-Lavín
Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism 2015, 45 (2): 214-9
26094164

OBJECTIVE: A consistent line of investigation suggests that fibromyalgia is a neuropathic pain syndrome. This outlook has been recently reinforced by several controlled studies that describe decreased small nerve fiber density in skin biopsies of patients with fibromyalgia. The cornea receives the densest small fiber innervation of the body. Corneal confocal bio-microscopy is a new noninvasive method to evaluate small nerve fiber morphology. Our objective was to assess corneal small nerve fiber morphology in patients with fibromyalgia, and to associate corneal nerve microscopic features with neuropathic pain descriptors and other fibromyalgia symptoms.

METHODS: We studied 17 female patients with fibromyalgia and 17 age-matched healthy control subjects. All the participants completed different questionnaires regarding the symptoms of fibromyalgia, including a neuropathic pain survey. A central corneal thickness scan was obtained with a confocal microscope. Nerve measurements were made by a single ophthalmologist without knowledge of the clinical diagnosis. Stromal nerve thickness was defined as the mean value between the widest and the narrowest portion of each analyzed stromal nerve. Corneal sub-basal plexus nerve density was also assessed.

RESULTS: Patients with fibromyalgia had stromal nerve thickness of 5.0 ± 1.0 µm (mean ± standard deviation) significantly different from that of control's values (6.1 ± 1.3) p = 0.01. Patients also had decreased sub-basal plexus nerve density per square millimeter (85 ± 29) vs. 107 ± 26 of controls p = 0.02. When controls and patients were grouped together, there was an association between stromal nerve slenderness and neuropathic pain descriptors (Fisher's exact test p = 0.007).

CONCLUSION: Women suffering from fibromyalgia have thinner corneal stromal nerves and diminished sub-basal plexus nerve density when compared to healthy controls. Nerve scarcity is associated with neuropathic pain descriptors. Small fiber neuropathy may play a role in the pathogenesis of fibromyalgia pain. Corneal confocal microscopy could become a useful test in the study of patients with fibromyalgia.

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