If you have fibromyalgia, you might have noticed a particularly strange symptom: constant itching.
It’s not something we usually think of when it comes to fibromyalgia. Ask anyone with a basic understanding of the condition what the symptoms are and they’ll list fatigue and chronic pain. It’s rare to hear skin issues brought up in connection with fibromyalgia.
And that makes a certain kind of sense. After all, fibromyalgia is a disease of the nervous system. It seems strange to connect it to the skin.
But many people with fibromyalgia do itch constantly, often to the point where it impedes their daily life. And the constant itching can lead to an even bigger problem: skin lesions.
Skin lesions are not just painful, they can be dangerous.
People don’t often consider “being itchy” to be that severe of a symptom. But for a moment, consider having an itch that just doesn’t go away. No matter how much you scratch, the itch just comes back in a few minutes. Now imagine that itch lasts for days. After a few days, could you focus on anything else but the maddening itch? Could you sleep?
And what if those days turned into years? Could you hold on to your sanity?
For many people with fibromyalgia, that’s not a hypothetical scenario. It’s all too real.
And anyone who has brought this symptom to a doctor has probably been told not to scratch. Of course, it’s not that easy. Often, scratching is the only thing that can provide any kind of relief, no matter how temporary.
But there’s a reason doctors tell you not to scratch.
Scratching damages the skin. And when you’re scratching constantly for a long period of time, that damage can really add up. The small breaks in the skin begin to grow. Eventually, scratching at the skin can even lead to large open wounds or lesions on the skin.
These lesions are bad enough on their own. And if they get deep enough, they can even cause permanent tissue damage.
But the real risk is an infection. Lesions, especially if you have more than one, are constantly at risk of getting infected. And while most of these infections are easy enough to manage with antibiotics, some can be quite serious. If you have a condition that weakens your immune system or a condition that weakens blood flow like diabetes, the risk of gangrene is very real.
Gangrene occurs when bacterial infections destroy skin tissue. Over time, this can even make it necessary to amputate the limb.
That means that it’s vital to do everything you can to prevent skin lesions and treat them when they occur.
Obviously, the best way to avoid skin lesions is not to scratch, just like the doctor says. But given how difficult that is, it might be better to find a way to just treat the itching. Unfortunately, that’s also fairly difficult.
You may have already discovered that some common medications designed to treat itching aren’t particularly effective for the type of itching that comes with fibromyalgia. That’s because weren’t designed to treat it. Most anti-itch medications are anti-histamines and are designed to deal with allergies or irritation to the skin.
And the truth is that the itching that fibro patients experience really has little to do with the skin.
Have you ever wondered what exactly is going on in the brain when you scratch? Basically, your nerves are sending signals to the brain that it interprets as an “itch.” And when you scratch the skin, your brain temporarily sends pain signals along the same system of nerves, blocking out the itch signals. This is the reason that it can, at least for a moment, make the itching stop.
Of course, we know that fibromyalgia is also a condition that affects the nervous system. And what might be happening is that your nerves are sending pain signals to the brain that are more intense and aren’t connected to any damage to the body. This could explain how fibromyalgia causes pain.
But some doctors think that in people with nerve conditions like fibromyalgia, your nerves can send itching signalsthe saw way they do pain signals.
So essentially, the itching may lie in a problem with the nerves and not the skin.
The next question is whether or not there’s anything you can do to make it stop. And the good news is that there are several medications that doctors prescribe to treat this kind of nerve-related itching. Gabapentin, a drug usually used to treat seizures, seems to be an effective choice. We aren’t sure why it works for itching, but it may be able to slow down those nerve connections that send itching signals to the brain.
If you’re dealing with constant itching, consult your doctor. Don’t be afraid to be insistent, or to consider switching to a doctor who specializes in nerve issues. Itching is a serious symptom and can even be dangerous when it leads to skin lesions. It deserves treatment just like any other symptom.
So, what do you do if you’ve already developed a lesion? There, the treatment options are a bit more straightforward. You should always apply antibiotic ointment to skin lesions to reduce the risk of infection. And if the lesion is deep enough to see the yellow fatty tissue under the skin, or if the skin around it is inflamed and tender to the touch, or if you see pus, you should visit a doctor right away.
Large lesions need medical attention. And inflammation and pus are sure signs of infection. Catching potentially dangerous infections early is the best way to avoid negative treatment outcomes.