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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 5

Nerve Damage Might Explain Chronic Pain

New clues to fibromyalgia's origins could crack the case of chronic pain

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Deborah Reed lived in a tall historic house on a tree-lined street in tony northwest Portland, Ore. In 2003 the author and mother of two boys developed deep muscle pain and profound fatigue, seemingly out of nowhere. “I remember climbing the wood stairs to my bedroom on the third floor,” Reed recalls. “It was agonizing.” Reed would spend entire days in her bed, getting up only for trips to the bathroom. When the pain was at its worst, she once went 10 days without leaving her bedroom.

Her doctor suspected depression and explained to Reed that pain can accompany that ailment. “But I just knew that's not what this was,” she says. “This was something else.” In addition to widespread muscle aches, Reed experienced tingling and burning sensations in her hands and feet, headaches, and painful sensitivity to temperature and light touch. Specialists tested Reed for multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cancer, lupus, Lyme disease and a catalogue of autoimmune conditions to no avail. After two years of evaluation, a rheumatologist finally gave Reed a diagnosis: fibromyalgia.

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