The link between idiopathic intracranial hypertension, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome: exploration of a shared pathophysiology, by Mieke Hulens, Ricky Rasschaert, Greet Vansant, Ingeborg Stalmans, Frans Bruyninckx, Wim Dankaerts in Journal of Pain Research Vol 2018:11 Pages 3129—3140 [Published 10 December 2018]
Purpose: Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IICH) is a condition characterized by raised intracranial pressure (ICP), and its diagnosis is established when the opening pressure measured during a lumbar puncture is elevated >20 cm H2O in nonobese patients or >25 cm H2O in obese patients. Papilledema is caused by forced filling of the optic nerve sheath with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Other common but underappreciated symptoms of IICH are neck pain, back pain, and radicular pain in the arms and legs resulting from associated increased spinal pressure and forced filling of the spinal nerves with CSF.
Widespread pain and also several other characteristics of IICH share notable similarities with characteristics of fibromyalgia (FM) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), two overlapping chronic pain conditions. The aim of this review was to compare literature data regarding the characteristics of IICH, FM, and CFS and to link the shared data to an apparent underlying physiopathology, that is, increased ICP.
Methods: Data in the literature regarding these three conditions were compared and linked to the hypothesis of the shared underlying physiopathology of increased cerebrospinal pressure.
Results: The shared characteristics of IICH, FM, and CFS that can be caused by increased ICP include headaches, fatigue, cognitive impairment, loss of gray matter, involvement of cranial nerves, and overload of the lymphatic olfactory pathway. Increased pressure in the spinal canal and in peripheral nerve root sheaths causes widespread pain, weakness in the arms and legs, walking difficulties (ataxia), and bladder, bowel, and sphincter symptoms. Additionally, IICH, FM, and CFS are frequently associated with sympathetic overactivity symptoms and obesity. These conditions share a strong female predominance and are frequently associated with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
Conclusion: IICH, FM, and CFS share a large variety of symptoms that might all be explained by the same pathophysiology of increased cerebrospinal pressure.