Fibromyalgia Pain is Real--What You Can Do to Relieve It
July 17, 2002
Brain scans of people with fibromyalgia offer the first hard evidence of what patients already know: Their pain is real and their threshold for tolerating it is substantially lower than that of most individuals.
Fibromyalgia affects an estimated 2% to 4% of the population. Nine in 10 fibromyalgia patients are female. Patients commonly report feeling tenderness, stiffness and sometimes unbearable pain in various areas of the body. They also may suffer from fatigue, depression and gastrointestinal problems. Some doctors without expertise in fibromyalgia have dismissed patients' complaints because there have been no documented physical signs of the disorder.
In the new report fibromyalgia patients underwent a type of detailed brain scan known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while an instrument intermittently applied different levels of pressure to their left thumbnail.
When all study participants received the same level of mild pressure, blood flow increased much more in the brains of patients with fibromyalgia than among those in the control group. The increased blood flow -- which is a "surrogate measure" for nerve activity -- occurred in areas of the brain known to be associated with pain.
In addition, when study participants were subjected to different levels of pressure, fibromyalgia patients reported pain at half the level of pressure that caused the same feelings of pain among the healthy controls.
Something appears awry with the way the central nervous system processes painful stimuli in fibromyalgia patients.
Arthritis & Rheumatism 2002;46:1333-1343