Scientists find that fibromyalgia is not “all in the patient’s head,” but rather a result of a pathology in the nerve fibers around specialized blood vessel structures in the palms of the hands.
Fibromyalgia affects as many as 5 million Americans aged 18 and older. It mostly affects women (by up to 80 – 90% of the cases), and it is hard to treat. Fibromyalgia is a disorder which is characterized by pain and aches all over the body.
People suffering from it report ‘tender points’ on their neck, shoulders, back, arms, hips, and legs, which hurt when pressure is applied. The pain is increased when exposed to cold, especially during wintertime.
So far, doctors have categorized fibromyalgia as a psychosomatic disorder, which means that it is caused by mental factors, and attribute it to the patients’ imagination. However, research has failed to identify the underlying cause of this pain, and this has left many physicians to doubt the true origins, or even the existence, of this disorder.
Now, to the relief of many who suffer from this disorder, new research has finally proved that fibromyalgia is not in the patients’ heads. In fact, it has been discovered that fibromyalgia appears as a result of an “excessive sensory nerve fibers around specialized blood vessel structures located in the palms of the hands.”
Conducted by scientists at Integrated Tissue Dynamics LLC (INTiDYN), the study has found that these nerve fibers, which were considered to be involved only in the regulation of the blood flow in the skin, were in fact also responsible for sensing touch and pain.
Bearing this in mind, they conducted a second study to locate any pathology in the blood vessel endings that could contribute to the existence of fibromyalgia. After analyzing skin samples from women who suffer from fibromyalgia, they discovered that there was an “enormous increase in sensory nerve fibers at specific sites within the blood vessels of the skin.”
As part of the arteriole-venule (AV) shunts, these nerves are responsible for the heat regulation in our body by controlling the blood flow in our blood vessels. In warm conditions, the shunts close down, thus forcing blood into the capillaries and the skin surface so as to release heat from the body.
In cold conditions, the shunts open wide, and this allows the veins to bypass the capillaries and thus conserve heat, making the hands and feet cold.
Dr. Albrecht, the lead scientist of the study, explains that this excess of sensory innervation may be the reason behind the tender and painful hands among fibromyalgia patients.
“But in addition, since the sensory fibers are responsible for opening the shunts, they would become particularly active under cold conditions, which are generally very bothersome to fibromyalgia patients.”
Even if these AV shunts are primarily located in the hands and feet, they have another important role which could contribute to the widespread pain, achiness, and fatigue that fibromyalgia patients experience.
Dr. Rice, president of INTIDYN, explains that our hands and feet contain a lot more blood than they need, as they serve as reservoirs for blood which can be diverted to other parts of the body when needed, and because of the pathology that occurs in these shunts, this blood flow is mismanaged.
“The pathology discovered among these shunts in the hands could be interfering with blood flow to the muscles throughout the body. This mismanaged blood flow could be the source of muscular pain and achiness, and the sense of fatigue which are thought to be due to a build-up of lactic acid and low levels of inflammation fibromyalgia patients.”
It’s good to know that there is a potential in finding a proper treatment to people who suffer from fibromyalgia, which has so far been treated with painkillers and antidepressants.
And it is best to know that instead of the thought that you may be going crazy, you can be sure that fibromyalgia is real and has a real cause behind it that has nothing to do with your mind.