Insulin resistance is associated with central pain in patients with fibromyalgia


Department of Anesthesiology, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center


BACKGROUND: Insulin resistance (IR) is a pathological condition in which cells fail to respond normally to insulin. IR has been associated with multiple conditions, including chronic pain. Fibromyalgia (FM) is one of the common generalized chronic painful conditions with an incidence rate affecting 3% to 6% of the population. Substantial interest and investigation into FM continue to generate many hypotheses.The relationship between IR and FM has not been explored. IR is known to cause abnormalities in the cerebral microvasculature, leading to focal hypoperfusion. IR also has been shown to cause cognitive impairment in FM patients, as in parkinsonism. As demonstrated by advanced imaging methods, similar brain perfusion abnormalities occur in the brain of patients with FM as with IR.

OBJECTIVES: To determine the potential association between FM and IR.

SETTING: Subspecialty pain medicine clinics.

STUDY DESIGN: Observational cross-sectional study.

METHODS: Laboratory data was extracted through a retrospective review of medical records from patients who had met the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria for FM. The Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) values from 33 patients with FM were compared with the means of the glycated HbA1c levels of 2 control populations. In addition, established indices of IR [Quantitative Insulin Sensitivity Check Index (QUICKI) and the Homeostatic Model Assessment of Insulin Resistance (HOMA-IR)] were calculated in a subgroup of patients in whom the analytes necessary for these calculations were available. To assess for confounding factors, the associations between HbA1c, QUICKI, HOMA-IR, fasting insulin levels, and glucose, after controlling for age, were explored by multiple analyses of variance with relation to gender and ethnicity.

RESULTS: We found an association between IR and FM that was independent of age, gender, and ethnicity. We found that patients with FM belong to a distinct population that can be segregated from the control groups by their HbA1c levels, a surrogate marker of IR. This was demonstrated by analyzing the data after introducing an age correction into a linear regression model. This strategy showed significant differences between patients with FM and control subjects (P < 0.0001 and P = 0.0002, for 2 separate control populations, respectively). A subgroup analysis using the QUICKI and HOMA-IR showed that all patients with FM in this subgroup (100%) exhibited laboratory abnormalities pointing to IR.

LIMITATIONS: Small observational cross-sectional study. There are also intrinsic limitations that are attributed to cross-sectional studies.

CONCLUSION: The association demonstrated in this study warrant further investigation, including the pursuit of randomized, double-blind clinical trials to determine the effect of improving insulin sensitivity in FM related pain scores. Such studies could unveil a potential pathogenetic relationship between FM, central pain, and IR. Based on these initial findings, we present the hypothesis that IR may underlie pathological mechanisms leading to central pain. If confirmed, this may lead to a paradigm shift in the management of central pain.

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