Fibromyalgia is a well known, chronic disorder that is most associated with debilitating symptoms of pain and fatigue, but it is also shrouded in mystery, even as the number of patients keeps growing.
It is estimated that about 5 million Americans are affected by this disease, and many people struggle with ineffective conventional treatments. While the exact cause of it is unknown to mainstream medicine, it has been linked to a result of a traumatic effect – physical or emotional. Diet can also play a strong role, especially in regards to gut bacteria), and an abnormality in the blood vessels of a person’s palm has also been linked to the disease.
Currently Western medicine’s approach mostly relies on a combination of medications: pain drugs, anti-inflammatories, and a variety of other potentially dangerous prescription medications that may have been approved for purposes other than fibromyalgia (off-label drug use).
Alternative medicine, however, is always looking for new ways to treat so called “incurable” diseases such as fibromyalgia. Many patients have had success incorporating a variety of therapies into their healing strategy for fibromyalgia: massage, the Feldenkrais method, chiropractic, acupuncture, and herbs and supplements that can be chosen by a naturopathic doctor. One of the most recent alternative methods that showed success in treating fibromyalgia is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
Researchers Discover Possible Cause of Fibromyalgia
Researchers from Tel Aviv University have discovered that using HBOT greatly reduced or even eliminated pain symptoms in women with fibromyalgia, making it possible for many to quit their pain medication.
After this discovery, a group of researchers from different universities worked together to explore if this information can provide us more answers about the disease. Based on this new knowledge, they believe that the cause of fibromyalgia is an inability of the brain to properly process pain.
“[T]he most important finding for me is that 70 percent of the patients could recover from their fibromyalgia symptoms. The most exciting finding for the world of research, however, is that we were able to map the malfunctioning brain regions responsible for the syndrome,” said Dr. Shai Efrati of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and Assaf Harofeh Medical Center.
This is not the first time researchers have noticed a different response to pain in fibromyalgia patients compared to other patients. A 2013 study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism found that fibromyalgia patients had disruptions of brain signals that contribute to pain sensitivity, and that provided some explanation to why pain medications have been ineffective for this condition.
“Our findings suggest that fibromyalgia patients exhibit altered brain responses to punishing and rewarding events, such as expectancy of pain and relief of pain,” stated Dr. Marco Loggia.
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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Fibromyalgia
Hyperbaric oxygen chambers provide patients with pure oxygen at higher-than-atmospheric pressures. Usually this treatment is used on patients with carbon monoxide poisoning, burns, decompression sickness and embolisms (obstructions in a blood vessel).
A clinical trial published in PLoS ONE by Tel Aviv University researchers treated 60 women with fibromyalgia with HBOT for 2 months and found significant reduction in symptoms and changes in the brain activity in 70% of women.
“The intake of the drugs eased the pain but did not reverse the condition. But hyperbaric oxygen treatments did reverse the condition,” said Dr. Efrati.
Researchers have found that the treatment works best for patients with traumatic brain injuries. For those whose fibromyalgia was triggered by other causes, patients needed maintenance treatment.
“The results are of significant importance. Hyperbaric oxygen treatments are designed to address the actual cause of fibromyalgia—the brain pathology responsible for the syndrome. It means that brain repair, including neuronal regeneration, is possible even for chronic, long-lasting pain syndromes, and we can and should aim for that in any future treatment development,” said Dr. Efrati.
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Where to Receive Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment
HyperbaricLink.com has lists of centers for every state that offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy, including some hospitals, outpatient centers and independent clinics.
Hospitals (such as Beaumont in Michigan) can only perform the hyperbaric oxygen treatment on patients whose conditions have been approved by the FDA to receive this therapy. Fibromyalgia is not currently one of them. The FDA approved HBOT for diabetic ulcer of the lower extremity, chronic refractory osteomyelitis, osteoradionecrosis, soft tissue radionecrosis, compromised grafts and flaps, crush injuries, and carbon monoxide poisoning, and a few other conditions.
Independent centers do offer HBOT for “off-label use.” One such center Oxford Recovery Center in Michigan uses HBOT for dozens of conditions, including fibromyalgia.
Please do your own research (and ask your naturopathic doctors) when considering choosing a facility. The website is an independent informational resources and is unable to research every facility on the list.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not constitute medical advice. Consult a licensed naturopathic doctor for more information.
Photo by intermedichbo (Milorad Dimic MD), Wikipedia Commons