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Fibromyalgia And Exaggerated Startle Response

I’m walking through the house, big-ass coffee cup in hand, when my mom, thinking I’m further away than I am, yells my name. My whole body jerks, and suddenly I’m watching in slow motion as my hand launches my big-ass coffee cup and its warm, creamy contents into the air and onto the floor, where it detonates into bouncing chunks of white ceramic and a splattered puddle of wasted caffeine.

Jumpy much? Yes, and there’s a reason for it.

Too Much Caffeine?

No, it wasn’t the caffeine, smartypants. I was not yet thoroughly caffeinated, according to my very full java bomb.

Exaggerated Startle Response

A less well-known symptom of fibromyalgia is an exaggerated startle response. In fibromyalgia, an exaggerated startle response is a manifestation of hypersensitivity. Many fibromyalgia patients report being especially sensitive to sounds, light, smells, touch – any type of sensory input. Any sudden, strong sensory input will cause us to practically jump through the ceiling, or at least turn and run away. Well…walk, hobble, or limp away. Sometimes, we must crawl. Or roll. Or, just sit there and cuss. Whatever. You get my point. We don’t like it.

It’s not just my mom’s yelling that damn near gives me a heart attack, either. Sometimes, it’s a stray hair that brushes against my cheek or an unexpected shadow flitting across the wall that will make me jump, too. Anything unexpected will send me through the ceiling.

My family thinks this is hilarious. Many times, I’ve been the victim of family members sneaking up behind me, just waiting for me to startle so they can have a good laugh. I joke that they’re trying to collect on my life insurance. Really, though, sometimes I wonder.

I understand the hilarity of it, but, at the same time, it jolts my whole body. I can feel that old, familiar wave of adrenaline washing through me. My heart rate rises, my breath quickens, my body tingles, and my head gets woozy. Its enough sometimes, that I have to immediately go lie down to recover. This also sets off a pain reaction and muscle stiffness after the adrenaline subsides.


There isn’t much you can do to treat an exaggerated startle response, unless you want to eat a Valium or a Xanax every time something makes you jump. No, you really don’t want to do that.

I’m sure somebody out there will tell you to avoid caffeine. If it makes you jittery, that would probably be a good idea for you. Not for me. It really doesn’t make me jittery. 

A better option is to avoid people who like to sneak up on you – especially if you have a big-ass coffee cup in your hand. Java bombs suck to clean up. For people you can’t avoid, like your family, (well, you could avoid them, but that’s not nice) you could implement a “no startle” rule in your home.

Good luck with that.

Okay, so I have no idea how to deal with this one. Any suggestions? Leave ‘em in the comments.

Until next time,


Image credit: George Hodan

2 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia And Exaggerated Startle Response

  1. I understand that Fibromyalgia is really commonly missed during general consultation in the Primary Health Care level, so it is common but not really recognized.
    Startle response can be a symptom of anxiety and anxiety is also associated with Fibromyalgia.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Yes, it is sometimes extremely difficult to get a fibromyalgia diagnosis. I was lucky that my doctor is so familiar with it and diagnosed me right away. Also, I never had a problem with anxiety until I got fibromyalgia. I’m not sure if being on Effexor to treat my fibro had anything to do with it, but, for some reason, my anxiety problem developed directly after I withdrew from Effexor. My doctor says Effexor withdrawal had nothing to do with it, but it’s a curious thing that it would come on so quickly afterward. Thanks for reading.

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