We usually think of ourselves as having five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. But for some people, it’s a little more complicated. If you have a condition known as synesthesia, you might actually taste things that you see, or feel things that you hear. Or you may even see colors that other people don’t see.
There’s a lot that we don’t understand about the condition, but some people have suggested that there may be a link between synesthesia and fibromyalgia. And you may have heard somewhere that people with fibromyalgia are more likely to have the condition.
But is there actually a link? Are people with fibromyalgia really more likely to experience synesthesia? Let’s talk about what synesthesia actually is. And then let’s look at some of the evidence that may connect it to fibromyalgia?
What Is Synesthesia?
Basically, the things we sense are sent to the brain through a complicated system of nerves. But the sensations we think of as a taste or the way something feels actually occur in the brain. Your brain interprets the data your nerves collect into a sense. And while we don’t understand exactly how, these sensations can get crossed in the brain.
As a result, some people experience things as a combined sense, or synesthesia.
Typically, people are born with this condition. And it usually isn’t until later in life that they learn that they are different from everyone else. But there have been cases of people developing the condition after traumatic brain injuries. That suggests that it has something to do with the fundamental wiring of the nervous system and that changes to that wiring can produce the condition.
One of the most common forms of the condition is something called “grapheme-color synesthesia.” Basically, when someone with this form of the condition sees or hears a letter or number, they imagine it as being shaded a certain color. The color seems to be more or less random, but each letter or number has one. And if you were to show someone with the condition a letter that was already colored, they would see the number with the color they normally associate with it blended into the real color.
But there are also other types of synesthesia. Some people will see colors when they hear music, for instance, or will hear music when they see colors. As you can imagine, it’s a difficult concept to grasp for people who don’t have the condition.
And there’s also a form of the condition called “mirror-touch synesthesia.” People who have this form of the condition have a close association between things they see and things they feel. So if they see someone gets tapped on the shoulder, they may feel a tap on their own shoulder.
Again, we don’t know what causes this kind of synesthesia, but it seems to be linked with higher levels of empathy for other people’s pain. And that may actually be relevant to the question of a link between synesthesia and fibromyalgia.
Synesthesia And Fibromyalgia
Some therapists have reported that a significant number of the people they see with synesthesia also have chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia. Others have suggested that people with fibromyalgia have a higher level of empathy for other people’s pain, and thus are more likely to have mirror-touch synesthesia.
But, it’s worth pointing out that there has been very little formal study of the link between the two conditions. And a study that tested whether people with fibromyalgia were more likely to experience physical sensations when other people were in pain concluded that they were no more likely than the control group without fibromyalgia.
However, there have been studies that suggest that people with IBS are more likely to have synesthesia. And we know that there is also a definite link between IBS and fibromyalgia. Both conditions seemed to be linked to extra activity in the nervous system. It’s plausible that there is something going on in the nervous system that links these conditions to synesthesia. But there’s not much hard evidence for what that is at the moment.
And a link between IBS and synesthesia is not the same as a link between fibromyalgia and synesthesia. So, while it’s possible that further research will establish a link, but there’s no reason at the moment to think that there is one.
But let us know, do you think there might be a link? Do you experience synesthesia? Is it related to your fibromyalgia? Tell us in the comments.