A group of Norwegian researchers has learned that patients with fibromyalgia or widespread pain have an increased probability for hearing loss. This new finding demonstrates that fibromyalgia, and also other musculoskeletal pain disorders, may be associated with an overall dysregulation of the central nervous system.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain disorder. Besides the characteristic pain symptoms, patients with fibromyalgia frequently present other non-specific signs, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, memory and concentration problems, depressive symptoms, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Due to the broad spectrum and high prevalence of symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, many scientists have started to recognize that fibromyalgia and related conditions may derive from the same mechanism. So far, the prevailing theory is that all fibromyalgia-related symptoms result from an alteration in the central neural processing of perceptive stimuli, rather than an organ-specific alteration, but this concept still lacks experimental support.
More recently, the scientific field has taken interest in how patients with fibromyalgia experience hearing. Some studies have presented contradictory results, making it unclear if fibromyalgia patients are more likely than not to report hearing loss.
The study, “Are persons with fibromyalgia or other musculoskeletal pain more likely to report hearing loss? A HUNT study,” was published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. It was based on the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study part 2 (HUNT2) and Nord-Trøndelag Hearing Loss study (NTHLS), and explored if fibromyalgia or other musculoskeletal pain disorder patients are more likely to develop hearing loss compared to control participants without pain-related problems.
About 44,500 patients with fibromyalgia or other musculoskeletal pain disorder were included in the study, and underwent testing to determine the occurrence of hearing loss.
Researchers found that patients with fibromyalgia and patients with other musculoskeletal pain disorders had a 4.5 increased probability of having impaired hearing when compared with a control group. Moreover, patients with local and widespread musculoskeletal pain, but not diagnosed with fibromyalgia, also were more likely to develop hearing loss.
Still, patients with widespread pain presented a stronger association with hearing loss, having approximately 3.3 increased chance to develop impaired hearing, while patients with local musculoskeletal pain had only 1.8 increased probability.
“The finding supports the increasing recognition that medically unexplained pain conditions may pertain to a larger spectrum of symptoms, and that a common denominator for the different symptoms might be a more general dysregulation in perception of sensory stimuli,” the authors concluded.