By Adrienne Dellwo, About.com Guide – Created March 21, 2011
Many people with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) complain of being cold all the time, or hot all the time, or alternately hot or cold. This symptom is called temperature sensitivity.
We don’t yet know exactly what causes this symptom, but there are several theories, including impaired homeostasis, low blood volume, or impaired blood flow. In FMS, some research shows an inability to adapt to changes in temperature along with a lower pain threshold to both heat and cold stimuli.
A lot of people with FMS and ME/CFS say that the discomfort of temperature sensitivity can exacerbate other symptoms.
Cold-sensitive people are often chilled to the bone and have a hard time warming up. The cold can be all over, or just in the hands and feet.
It can be hard for cold-sensitive people to warm up. They may need outside sources of heat, such as electric heating devices or a hot bath.
This symptom is generally worse during cold weather but can strike at any time.
We don’t currently have treatments that are known to relieve cold sensitivity. However, many people are able to avoid this symptom by:
- Keeping their environment warm
- Dressing warmly
- Keeping their feet covered
- Drinking hot liquid
- Taking frequent baths or showers
Some heat-sensitive people describe all-over heat sensations that seem to emanate from inside. Others may only have problems in their hands and/or feet, possibly along with puffiness and an ache, while some may get both types.
It can be hard to cool off and may require ice packs, cooling products, and soaking in cold water.
Hot weather can exacerbate this symptom, but it can also occur at any time.
As with cold sensitivity, we don’t have treatments for this and instead rely mostly on lifestyle changes, such as:
- Keeping the environment cool
- Avoiding heavy clothing
- Drinking cold liquids
- Avoiding overly hot baths or showers
People who are sensitive to both heat and cold face special challenges. How do you set your thermostat when you could freeze or overheat at any time?
Some people find that dressing in layers, or having extra layers available, can be helpful. It also pays to play close attention to your temperature so that you can take steps to warm up or cool down before it becomes problematic.
Smith BW, et al. Pain. 2008 Dec;140(3):420-8. Habituation and sensitization to heat and cold pain in women with fibromyalgia and healthy controls.