Extreme Itch in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A result of nerve damage?

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

Woman scratching itch
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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.

One fibromyalgia survey published in Clinical Rheumatology reported itchiness without a known cause in about 2 percent of patients. However, they only looked at symptoms that patients had reported, and it's possible this symptom isn't always reported. Several of our symptoms can fly under the radar, with few people realizing they're tied to these illnesses.

Why Do We Itch?

We don't have much research into this specific question, but it's likely that 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 pinpricks, burning, tingling, and so on. 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. In 2014, the research team of Anderson, Berk, and Maes suggested a link between chronic fatigue syndrome and an immune-system inflammation that's known to cause neuropathy.

There's something else to consider. Itchiness is a known side effect of narcotic painkillers, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, 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.
  2. Ice: Cooling down the area can relieve any inflammation that may be putting pressure on the nerve, but, most importantly, it can deaden feeling. (Learn to ice properly.)
  3. Painkillers: For the itch itself, acetaminophen (the ingredient in Tylenol) is the one that's most likely to help with it. (Acetaminophen is in a lot of products, however, including some narcotic painkillers, 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 painkillers can cause itchiness, so they may not be helpful against this symptom.
  4. 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 or she may be able to help you find successful treatments.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Doctor Discussion Guide

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