Being in chronic pain is no fun, that’s for sure. Think of any area of your life – your work, your relationships, your mood, your finances – and see if chronic pain doesn’t impact it negatively. But is being in chronic pain itself dangerous? Some in the medical profession give chronic pain short shrift.
They assert that it’s the result of a false alarm from your central nervous system; i.e. while it’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t constitute a threat to you physiologically.
The pain in FM is certainly different from normal pain.
Normal or “nociceptive” pain results from a tissue injury, while the “pathological” pain in FM is believed to derive mostly from the central nervous system.
A tissue injury (that should heal) is the problem in normal pain; a wounded or dysfunctional central nervous system (which may not heal) is the problem in FM.
Is having fibromyalgia or being in chronic pain dangerous?
Perhaps not surprisingly given its origin, pathological pain also tends to be more associated with mood disorders than does nociceptive pain.
It’s also associated with a whole array of other central nervous system problems (cognition, sleep, problems with other stimuli).
That’s apparently what happens when you tweak a good portion of the central nervous system.
But does all that central nervous system tweaking add up to actual physiological problems? Afton Hassett and Daniel Clauw think it might.
They point to evidence suggesting that simply being in chronic pain may increase one’s risk of coming down with a cardiovascular or neurodegenerative disease, or cause cognitive declines or even, yes, contribute to an earlier than usual death.
A large 2009 English study found quite significantly increased deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer in people with widespread pain – the kind of pain people with FM have.
A 2001 study that found similar results but was flummoxed as to why – stating, “At present there are no satisfactory biologic explanations for this observation”. A 2014 meta-analysis reported that having widespread pain was indeed associated with small increases in mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The findings suggested that many women with FM don’t meet the fitness standards experts recommend for maintaining physical independence as they age
Likewise FM patients appeared to have aged twenty years in a cognitive study. They performed worse on all cognitive tasks than age-matched healthy controls and performed similarly to healthy controls 20 years older.
Next the authors move to a direct biological measure that studies have directly associated with aging – telomere length.
Telomeres – the end-caps of chromosomes – shorten as we age.
Because they can also shorten in response to biological stressors, telomere length is thought to reflect one’s “biological age” as well. Decreased telomere length has, in fact, been associated with a number of diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes as well as early mortality.
FM patients had only a “trend” towards shorter telomeres vs. healthy controls, but within the FM group,
- the higher the pain an FM patient was in, the shorter their telomeres were.
- Being in severe pain and being depressed tweaked their telomeres a bit more
A recent review “Illness Perceptions and the Burden of Disease in Fibromyalgia“, though, outlined the difficult time many FM patients have trying to get help.
Calling the typical health care journey “lengthy and complex”, they reported that patients are “likely to receive suboptimal or inappropriate pharmacotherapy”. The authors asserted that, “major improvements in FM recognition and management are urgently needed.”
It’s very possible that people with FM are aging more rapidly than usual; the reduced physical activity that’s comes with FM by itself could be causing that. Any person with FM probably wouldn’t be surprised by that news. The kind of distress caused by FM must, anyone with the disease would feel, have consequences.
What they would be surprised by, though, is that a disease which affects them so considerably, could still given such short shrift by researchers. THAT is distressing.
Original article: Is Fibromyalgia Making You Older? –