Habituation and sensitization to heat and cold pain in women with fibromyalgia and healthy controls

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Published in: Pain, v. 140, no.3, 2008.


The purpose of this study was to examine differences in habituation to heat and cold pain in women with fibromyalgia (FM; n=33) and in women who were healthy controls (HC; n=44). Quantitative sensory testing (QST) was used to assess pain thresholds during five consecutive trials of ascending heat and descending cold stimulation. Anxiety, depression, fatigue, and pain during the previous week were assessed using self-report measures. The overall hypotheses were that there would be differences between groups in pain thresholds and in the rate of habituation to heat and cold pain stimuli. Multilevel modeling was used to test the hypotheses. There were large overall differences in pain thresholds, with the FM group showing greater sensitivity to heat and cold pain stimuli compared with the HC group. While habituation occurred in both of the groups for heat pain, the HC group had stronger habituation across trials than the FM group. Conversely, while the HC group habituated to cold pain stimuli, the FM group showed sensitization and had decreased cold pain thresholds across trials (they felt cold pain at higher temperatures). In addition, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and pain were related to decreased heat and cold pain thresholds in the overall sample. However, when group was controlled, none of these variables were related to thresholds or rates of habituation or sensitization. The differences between women with FM and healthy women in habituation and sensitization may have important implications for the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of FM and other chronic pain conditions.