Brain Scans Give Insight Into Fibromyalgia-Related Pain
A new study sheds insight into how pain factors into fibromyalgia, a chronic condition we know very little about. Brain scans showed that fibromyalgia patients are not as able to mentally prepare for pain compared to healthy people. They are also less respondent to the promise of pain relief.
Fibromyalgia is not well understood, but it has become known that those with the ailment feel pain more intensely and do not tend to respond as well to narcotic pain killers. The brain scans may give a clue to why this happens.
Dr. Lynn Webster, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, explained that people without fibromyalgia can naturally mentally alleviate some forms of pain they may experience, but, “for people with fibromyalgia, that capability seems to be dampened if not eliminated. They may not be able to respond the same way to medications or our intrinsic mechanisms for dealing with pain.”
Fibromyalgia affects 3.4 percent of women and 0.5 percent of men within the United States, and statistically older women are the most likely to suffer from the condition.
The study, published in the Nov. 5 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, evaluated 31 patients against a control group of 14 healthy people. The authors used an MRI scan to analyse participants’ brains as a blood pressure cuff squeezed the patient’s calf to a painful extent. Doctors increased the pressure so that patients with or without fibromyalgia would rate the pain between 40-50 on a scale of 100.
Dr. Marco Loggia, the study author from Massachusetts Genera Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said, “It gives a very deep muscular type of pain. It’s closer to the clinical pain that a patient with fibromyalgia experiences.”
The participants were also given a visual cue which notified them when the cuff would begin squeezing as well as when it would release. This way, the researchers could see how the brain responds to both anticipation of pain and relief. The doctors expectations were confirmed when they found that patients with fibromyalgia needed much less pressure to reach the same amount of pain as a healthy person. The researchers were surprised however to find that there were distinct variations in how certain parts of the brain dealt with the pain.
The study is seen by professor of neurology and director of the division of neuromuscular medicine at Ohio State University, Dr. John Kassel, as evidence that fibromyalgia is a condition caused by something biologically or fundamentally wrong, rather than a peripheral disorder.