Fibromyalgia (FM) is characterized by widespread tenderness. Studies have also reported that persons with FM are sensitive to other stimuli, such as auditory tones. We hypothesized that subjects with FM would display greater sensitivity to both pressure and auditory tones and report greater sensitivity to sounds encountered in daily activities. FM subjects (n = 30) and healthy control subjects (n = 28) were administered auditory tones and pressure using the same psychophysical methods to deliver the stimuli and a common way of scaling responses. Subjects were also administered a self-report questionnaire regarding sensitivity to everyday sounds. Participants with FM displayed significantly greater sensitivity to all levels of auditory stimulation (Ps < .05). The magnitude of difference between FM patients' lowered auditory sensitivity (relative to control subjects) was similar to that seen with pressure, and pressure and auditory ratings were significantly correlated in both control subjects and subjects with FM. FM patients also were more sensitive to everyday sounds (t = 8.65, P < .001). These findings support that FM is associated with a global central nervous system augmentation in sensory processing. Further research is needed to examine the neural substrates associated with this abnormality and its role in the etiology and maintenance of FM.
Perspective: Muscle tenderness is the hallmark of FM, but the findings of this study and others suggest that persons with FM display sensitivity to a number of sensory stimuli. These findings suggest that FM is associated with a global central nervous system augmentation of sensory information. These findings may also help to explain why persons with FM display a number of comorbid physical symptoms other than pain.