Does your skin burn or itch? Do you frequently get rashes that just won’t go away? According to Charles Lapp, M.D., who treats hundreds of people with fibromyalgia at his center in Charlotte, NC, “fibromyalgia-related rashes occur in the majority of patients that I see.” Lapp, along with another experienced physician, Daniel Wallace, M.D., of UCLA, agrees that skin sensitivities are common in fibro. So what is it about your skin and its related tissues that make them so sensitive? Studies during the past 20 years may help explain why your skin is such a nagging issue.
- Xavier Caro, M.D., of Northridge, CA, performed most of the early research in this field to show that there was a high concentration of immune-reactive proteins in the area just beneath the surface of the skin. He theorized that these proteins had escaped through larger-than-normal pores in the blood vessels supplying the skin, and they could be a source of immunological reactions because the body would view them as “foreign” substances in the skin tissues (i.e., it is not normal for these proteins to pass through the blood vessels).
- Although Caro’s findings point to an immunological disruption in the skin of patients with fibromyalgia, they are commonly seen in conditions where the microcirculation (the capillaries and small blood vessels) has undergone changes. Haiko Sprott, M.D., of Switzerland, reported that the number of capillaries in the skin of fibromyalgia patients were significantly reduced and irregular in shape. The amount of blood flow to the peripheral tissues (such as the skin) was substantially reduced as well.
- A Swedish team found a fourfold increase in the number of mast cells in the skin of fibromyalgia patients. Mast cells, part of the immune system, are filled with many chemicals such as histamine and cytokines (both can cause painful irritation in the surrounding tissues when released from the mast cells). Neurological impulses can cause mast cells to dump their contents (degranulate), eliciting a neuro-immune response. The authors of this study point out that, perplexing, the mast cells are degranulated in areas where the skin looks “normal.” In other words, the surface of the skin does not convey the immunological, neurological, and blood flow abnormalities that are occurring in the tissues below!
Taken together, the above findings may help explain why you are often troubled with rashes that are difficult-to-treat. Even if the skin appears normal on the surface, there is a lot going on beneath the surface to fuel your skin irritations and itchy/burning sensations.