“Finding an objective neurochemical change in the brain of people used to being told that their problems are imaginary is very important,” said researcher Marco Loggia.
People with fibromyalgia have widespread inflammation in their brains, new research reveals.
“Finding an objective neurochemical change in the brains of people used to being told that their problems are imaginary is very important,” explained the study’s senior author, Marco Loggia. He is associate director of the Center for Integrative Pain Neuroimaging at Harvard Medical School.
The new research used an advanced imaging test called positron emission tomography, or PET, and looked at 31 people with fibromyalgia and 27 healthy controls from Boston and Stockholm, Sweden.
Dr. Harry Gewanter, a master at the American College of Rheumatology, agreed that the findings could bring comfort to patients.
“There is a lot of stigma associated with chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia. I think a lot of people will feel a lot better to know that there are physiological changes that you can find, ”said Gewanter.
Fibromyalgia causes pain throughout the body, according to the US 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, reports the CDC. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, although the researchers said it is likely that a disease of the central nervous system. Medications and lifestyle changes can help to manage the condition.
All volunteers in the study underwent PET scans. Boston fibromyalgia patients were heavier than healthy controls in Boston and those in Stockholm with fibromyalgia. The researchers said this is the only variable significantly different between the two groups.
When researchers compared the tests of people with fibromyalgia to healthy controls, they saw more inflammation in the brain’s immune cells – glia – in people with fibromyalgia.
Loggia said the findings may lead to better ways to test fibromyalgia treatments, to see if they reduce inflammation. It is also possible that this discovery could eventually help researchers discover the cause of the disorder.
Gewanter said that this study gives scientists several possible directions. One is to be able to follow a treatment to see how it works. Another is possibly to develop ways to intervene with new treatments.
Treatment now focuses on medications and lifestyle changes. According to the CDC, people with fibromyalgia are encouraged to try to exercise 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. And establishing regular sleep habits can help, as well as reducing stress as much as possible, perhaps using yoga or meditation.