Sensory dysfunction in fibromyalgia patients with implications for pathogenic mechanisms

E Kosek, J Ekholm, P Hansson
Pain 1996, 68 (2-3): 375-83
This study, addressing etiologic and pathogenic aspects of fibromyalgia (FM), aimed at examining whether sensory abnormalities in FM patients are generalized or confined to areas with spontaneous pain. Ten female FM patients and 10 healthy, age-matched females participated. The patients were asked to rate the intensity of ongoing pain using a visual analogue scale (VAS) at the site of maximal pain, the homologous contralateral site and two homologous sites with no or minimal pain. Quantitative sensory testing was performed for assessment of perception thresholds in these four sites. Von Frey filaments were used to test low-threshold mechanoreceptive function. Pressure pain sensitivity was assessed with a pressure algometer and thermal sensitivity with a Thermotest. In addition the stimulus-response curve of pain intensity as a function of graded nociceptive heat stimulation was studied at the site of maximal pain and at the homologous contralateral site. FM patients had increased sensitivity to non-painful warmth (P < 0.01) over painful sites and a tendency to increased sensitivity to non-painful cold (P < 0.06) at all sites compared to controls, but there was no difference between groups regarding tactile perception thresholds. Compared to controls, patients demonstrated increased sensitivity to pressure pain (P < 0.001), cold pain (P < 0.001) and heat pain (P < 0.02) over all tested sites. The stimulus-response curve was parallely shifted to the left of the curve obtained from controls (P < 0.003). Intragroup comparisons showed that patients had increased sensitivity to pressure pain (P < 0.01) and light touch (P < 0.05) in the site of maximal pain compared to the homologous contralateral site. These findings could be explained in terms of sensitization of primary afferent pathways or as a dysfunction of endogenous systems modulating afferent activity. However, the generalized increase in sensitivity found in FM patients was unrelated to spontaneous pain and thus most likely due to a central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction. The additional hyperphenomena related to spontaneous pain are probably dependent on disinhibition/facilitation of nociceptive afferent input from normal (or ischemic) muscles.

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