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People with fibromyalgia are often hypersensitive to muscle, joint, and widespread pain. Now, new research suggests people who have this disorder may be more sensitive to heat and sound, too.

In a small study, published in the Journal of Pain, researchers tested 51 people for their response to noise and temperature stimuli. Of the group, 23 people had fibromyalgia and 28 did not. All fibromyalgia patients were tapered off their psychotropic medications (such as antidepressants) and pain medications prior to the study but continued to take medications for any comorbid conditions.

Each study participant listened to sounds played through earphones and was asked to rate them based on how mild or intense they sounded. In another part of the study, participants had varying levels of heat or pressure applied to their hands and legs and asked to rate their discomfort.

“Using three different stimulus intensities, our psychophysical investigation of auditory sensitivity provided evidence that [fibromyalgia] patients require less sound pressure to report similar loudness ratings than [healthy controls],” the authors found.

In other words, people with fibromyalgia demonstrated more sensitivity to sounds, and found lower-volume sounds to be more intense, than people without fibromyalgia.

Meanwhile, fibromyalgia patients reported pain at lower levels of pressure and heat compared to what caused healthy participants the same amount of discomfort.

“Many previous reports have suggested that central nervous system augmentation in [fibromyalgia] is not limited to pain but may also affect sound, light, taste and smell,” the researchers wrote. “However, until now, no definitive laboratory evidence of abnormal loudness augmentation was available.”

The authors noted that such sensitivities are often dismissed as being psychological in nature — or, as patients commonly hear, “it’s all in your head.” This study, albeit small, adds to the evidence that nervous system problems likely make people with fibromyalgia patients perceive sound, temperature, and touch as more severe compared to how people without fibromyalgia experience them.

Additional, larger studies will be needed to confirm these findings. The researchers noted that they are also interested in investigating whether fibromyalgia patients might respond differently to light and smell.

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Staud R, et al. F Fibromyalgia Patients Are Not Only Hypersensitive to Painful Stimuli But Also to Acustic Stimuli. The Journal of Pain. February 23, 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2021.02.009.