Fibromyalgia-Not Imaginary, Brain Scanning Suggests


Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.


Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.

Women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men. Many people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression.

While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a variety of medications can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction measures also may help.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Widespread pain.The pain associated with fibromyalgia often is described as a constant dull ache that has lasted for at least three months. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.
  • People with fibromyalgia often awaken tired, even though they report sleeping for long periods of time. Sleep is often disrupted by pain, and many patients with fibromyalgia have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.
  • Cognitive difficulties.A symptom commonly referred to as “fibro fog” impairs the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks.

Fibromyalgia often co-exists with other painful conditions, such as:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Migraine and other types of headaches
  • Interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders

Recent Research.  According to a research, people with fibromyalgia have widespread inflammation in their brains. “Finding an objective neurochemical change in the brains of people who are used to being told that their problems are imaginary is pretty important,” explained senior study author Marco Loggia who is associate director of the Center for Integrative Pain Neuroimaging at Harvard Medical School Boston, Massachusetts-USA. This new research used an advanced imaging test called positron emission tomography (PET) and looked at 31 people with fibromyalgia and 27 healthy “controls” from Boston and Stockholm, Sweden. Dr. Harry Gewanter, a master of the American College of Rheumatology, agreed the findings could bring comfort to patients.  “There’s a heck of a lot of stigma associated with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia. I think it’s going to make a lot of people feel much better to know that there are physiologic changes you can find,” Gewanter said.


Fibromyalgia causes pain throughout the body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition also causes sleep problems, fatigue and difficulty with thinking and memory.

The disorder affects about 4 million Americans, the CDC reports. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, though the researchers said it’s likely a disease of the central nervous system. Medications and lifestyle modifications can help manage the condition.

All of the volunteers in the study underwent PET scans. Fibromyalgia patients in Boston were heavier than the healthy controls in Boston, and those in Stockholm with fibromyalgia. The researchers said this was the only significantly different variable between the two groups.

Inflammation in Brain(Glia)

When the researchers compared the scans of people with fibromyalgia to healthy controls, they saw more inflammation in the immune cells of the brain (glia) in people with fibromyalgia.

Loggia said the findings might lead to better ways to test fibromyalgia treatments, to see if they reduce inflammation. It’s also possible that this finding may eventually help researchers tease out the cause of the disorder.

Gewanter said this study gives scientists a number of possible directions to go. One is to be able to follow a treatment to see how well it works. Another is possibly developing ways to intervene with new treatments.

These days, treatment focuses on medication and lifestyle changes. According to the CDC, people with fibromyalgia are encouraged to try to exercise 30 minutes daily most days of the week. And establishing regular sleep habits can help, as can reducing stress as much as possible, perhaps using yoga or meditation.

References: www.mayoclinic.org

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