Extreme Itch in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A Result of Nerve Damage?

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Because fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome involve the central nervous system, we get all kinds of strange goings on in our nerves.  Along with burning, tingling, numbness and pin pricks, we can experience itchiness that can be severe and persistent.

Here's how one person with fibromyalgia describes the itchiness:

"I need to figure out the 'itch' because I literally want to take my skin off! I'd love to hear if anyone else has experienced this. It's always symmetrical and it feels like every nerve under my skin is being electrocuted."

Many people can relate to that type of itchiness and how crazy it can make us. It's maddening, especially since scratching doesn't do a thing to help. For those with a pain type called allodynia, which causes touch to hurt, scratching an itch can make the whole area scream with pain, as well.

This isn't a symptom you hear about a lot. It might be one of those symptoms that fly under the radar, with too few people realizing it's tied to these illnesses.

One fibromyalgia survey (Laniosz) reported itchiness without a known cause in about two percent of patients. However, they only looked at symptoms that patients had reported, and it's possible that this symptom isn't always reported.

Why Do We Itch?

Basically, we itch because our nerves -- and, in fact, our entire nervous systems -- aren't normal.

Many of us with these conditions have a symptom called paresthesia, which is abnormal nerve sensation.

That's also why we get pin pricks, burning, tingling, numbness, etc. It's usually caused by neuropathy, which means damaged nerves.

For a long time, researchers were perplexed by this, because it didn't appear that we actually had damaged nerves. Now, however, there's some evidence that we do.

In fibromyalgia, studies have revealed small fiber neuropathy, which is damage to specific parts of certain nerves.

One research team (Anderson) has suggested a link between chronic fatigue syndrome and an immune-system inflammation that's known to cause neuropathy.

There's something else to consider, though: narcotic painkillers, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. Itchiness is a known side effect of these medications, so if you take them for pain, be aware that they could be the cause of your itch.

What Can Help?

Since this isn't a "normal" itch, scratching doesn't relieve it, so that leaves us trying to hold back the fingernails while we explore possible treatments.

Several things may help you get rid of or at least tone down that itch:

  1. Capsaicin. This is a topical pain reliever that depletes your cells of their pain messengers, essentially forcing them to stop complaining. Tread softly with this one at first, though -- it has a burn that's too intense for some people. (More about capsaicin.)
  2. Ice. Cooling down the area can relieve any inflammation that may be putting pressure on the nerve, but most importantly it can deaden the feeling. (Learn to ice properly.)
  1. Pain killers. For the itch itself, acetaminophen (the ingredient in Tylenol) is the one that's most likely to help with nerve pain. (Acetaminophen is in a lot of products, including some narcotic pain killers, so make sure you're not taking more than one drug that contains it.) Again, if the nerve pain is a result of inflammation, anti-inflammatories may help as well. As noted above, narcotic pain killers can cause itchiness, so they may not be helpful against this symptom.
  2. Calming the nervous system. Certain supplements (theanine, Rhodiola), medications (Xyrem, Valium, Xanax), acupuncture, and yoga and meditation may all help keep your nerves from being hypersensitive and causing these kinds of sensations.

Maybe it's Something Else

Of course, Lots of things other than nerve dysfunction can make you itch, so it pays to make sure your itch isn't caused by one of them. If you notice any skin abnormalities, you should talk to a doctor about it. Also watch for associations between your itch and food, skin-care products, and other potential allergens.

No matter the suspected cause, you should let your doctor know about your itch. He/she may be able to help you find successful treatments.

Sources:

Anderson G, Berk M, Maes M. Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica. 2014 Feb;129(2):83-97. Biological phenotypes underpin the physio-somatic symptoms of somatization, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Laniosz V, Wetter DA, Godar DA. Clinical rheumatology. 2014 Jul;33(7):1009-13. Dermatologic manifestations of fibromyalgia.

Uceyler N, et al. Brain. 2013 Jun;136(Pt 6):1857-67. Small fiber pathology in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome.

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