Hypervigilance in Fibromyalgia

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In recent years, a good deal of serious research has been carried out on the hypothesized presence of generalized hypervigilance to sensory stimulation in fibromyalgia (FM). A study was done and results showed that the possible presence of a generalized hypervigilance response in fibromyalgia patients based on significant slowness in the color-naming. This effect was mediated by the degree of perceived unpleasantness of the A−stimuli. However, the expected mediation effect of anxiety was not found.

Hypervigilance

State of being constantly tense, on guard, and exceptionally aware of your environment is known as Hypervigilance. People experiencing hypervigilance are unusually sensitive to the environment and people around them. As hypervigilance as an abnormal increase of attention to external stimuli has been implicated in chronic pain states, we assumed both attentional performance and pain-induced gamma oscillations to be altered in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS).

Painful stimuli are of utmost behavioral relevance and thereby affect attentional resources. In health, variable effects of pain on attention have been observed, indicating alerting as well as distracting effects of pain. In the human brain, these effects are closely related to modulations of neuronal gamma oscillations. ​

Hypervigilance is a feature of fibromyalgia and may contribute to the common symptom of sensory overload suggested by a small but growing body of research. Presence of a generalized hypervigilance response in FM patients is not mediated by anxiety.

Why our bodies react so painfully to a sensation that most people wouldn’t experience as painful (called allodynia) is because our brains become overly aware of things, which can include painful stimuli, noises, bright lights, and general activity.

This also explains why we’re sensitive to noise, light, chaotic environments and more. Not only do you notice things more readily with hypervigilance but also you’re likely to be unable to divert your attention from them. You’ll notice it right away when something is beeping in the other room and probably you will be highly distracted by it.

 

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And you will become agitated if it doesn’t go away. Patients with FMS consider themselves hypervigilant towards pain as compared to healthy people. Our brains perceive the feeling of pressure of a waistband or how a fabric rubs across your skin. Our brains consider it as threat and try to fixate on it. Our physiological response is far more extreme than it should be.

Hypervigilant Response of brain

About our environments the human brain perceives a lot of information that we were never consciously aware of. At any one time there are too many signals bombarding our brains. That’s why a filtering process takes place things considered unimportant are filtered out and we’re never cognizant of them. Anything gets extra attention that your brain considers a threat. Depending on what your brain has learned is a danger this can be a highly personalized response.

Example

People with arachnophobia (fear of spiders.) are taken. Due to this fear they’re almost assuredly the first person in the room who will notice a bug on the wall or something small moving on the carpet across the room. Especially in places where they’ve frequently seen spiders their brains are constantly on alert. They may panic when they see a spider. They may want to curl up in a safe place and cry. They may want to run away. The response to over-stimulating environments can be similar with fibromyalgia.

Personal experience

I want to share my personal experience. One time, I was standing in line to buy something in a small, disorganized store in which an employee had turned on loud, trashy music with an awfully rapid beat. I was with my husband luckily. He understood when I handed him my items and told him I had to get out of there. I sat down against a wall outside and closed my eyes. I breathed deeply until I was no longer in danger of a full-blown anxiety attack. I can see the similarities between that and what happens when I see a spider, as an arachnophobe.

Experience of hypervigilance when you have children

When it comes to our children most parents experience a certain amount of hypervigilance. The tiniest whimper can bring you flying out of bed when you have a new baby. You notice small hazards that other people don’t, such as an exposed power outlet or a glass on the edge of a table. It’s not healthy to spend too long in a hypervigilant state although hypervigilance is normal in certain situations.

Police officers and soldiers in combat zones often do, which is what puts them at risk for PTSD. Being on alert all the time is exhausting. As Hypervigilance can disrupt sleep, cause avoidance behaviors, and make you jumpy and anxious. Panic attacks are definitely possible as it can make you irritable and prone to outbursts. Talk to your doctor about it if you believe hypervigilance is a problem for you.

That may help shape the direction of your treatment.  Hypervigilance is an aspect of illness and not an illness itself. Hypervigilance is not generally treated by drugs. Instead, coping techniques and treatment for the illness that caused it are recommended.

Coping techniques

They include Deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness, meditation and dealing with stress. Situations or environments that ramp up your hypervigilance, detach yourself from them. You may benefit from counseling if this leads to isolation or avoidance behaviors. with time and effort, hypervigilance can be overcome. A doctor may refer people for therapy to help treat the mental health condition that is causing their hypervigilance. Therapies that may help include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety or exposure therapy for PTSD.

 

Also Read: Fibromyalgia Diet: What to eat and what not to eat

 

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References:

  • Hypervigilance in Fibromyalgia By Adrienne Dellwo via Very Well Health
  • Borg C, et al. Brain and cognition. 2015 Dec;101:35-43. Attentional focus on subjective interoceptive experience in patients with fibromyalgia.
  • Gonzalez JL, et al. Journal of psychosomatic research. 2010 Sep;69(3):279-87. Generalized hypervigilance in fibromyalgia patients: an experimental analysis with the emotional Stroop paradigm.
  • Hollins M, Walters S. Experimental brain research. 2016 Jun;234(6):1377-84. Experimental hypervigilance changes the intensity/unpleasantness ratio of pressure sensations: evidence for the generalized hypervigilance hypothesis.
  • Featured Image via : Hampton Bay Medical Center

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