Somatosensory perception thresholds, perceived intensity, and quality of perceptions were assessed in 20 women with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) and in 20 healthy age-matched female controls. All patients and controls scaled perceived intensity and described perceived quality of randomized thermal (Thermotest) and tactile (von Frey filaments) stimulation. Perceived intensity was scaled by free-number magnitude estimation and interindividual comparability was accomplished by Master Scaling. Perceived quality was assessed by choosing verbal descriptors from a list. Thenar was used as a reference for each modality tested. All patients were able to reliably scale perceived intensity at thenar, as well as in pain-affected body areas. Perception thresholds for cold pain, heat pain, cold-pain tolerance and heat-pain tolerance were significantly lower in patients than controls. For cold and tactile stimulation, the master scaled perceived intensities were significantly higher in patients’ pain-affected areas, whereas for warmth/heat stimulation, the intensities were significantly lower. In the qualitative perceptual analysis the most striking and significant finding was the aberration of cold-evoked perceptions in all patients: most stimuli in the range of 30–10°C were reported as heat or other paresthetic or dysesthetic perceptions. The perceptual quality of warmth, and of touch, did not differ from the controls. Another aberration was observed in the nociceptive range of thermal and of tactile stimulation as significantly more frequent pain-related descriptors than in controls. This indicates a general nociceptive facilitation in addition to the lower thermal pain thresholds. The combination of cold hyperesthesia, cold dysesthesia, and multimodal hyperalgesia suggests a selective pathophysiology at a particular level of integration, possibly in the insular cortex. It is suggested that the aberrations revealed by the supraliminal sensory evaluation may be generic for FMS. Particularly, the aberrations established in all patients for perceived quality and intensity in the cold sensory channel may be an additional diagnostic criterion.
aInstitute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet and Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
bDepartment of Rehabilitation Medicine and Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska Hospital, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
cDepartment of Clinical Neurosciences, Section of Neurology, Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska Hospital, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
∗Corresponding author. Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel.: +46-8163857; fax: +46-8-165522
Submitted February 26, 2001; revised September 18, 2001; accepted October 8, 2001.