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Brain Scans Can Help Identify How Fibromyalgia Works

Brain ScansBrain scans reveal that people with fibromyalgia, a pain disorder, respond in a different way to what other people would consider non-painful sights and sounds, according to a new study. The study highlighted in this report, aims to provide valuable clues regarding what might possibly be wrong in the nervous system of people with fibromyalgia and devise potentially better forms of modalities for chronic pain treatment.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition causing acute muscle ache and fatigue, significantly affecting a person’s ability to perform routine activities. As per reports from the US Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 50 Americans are estimated to have this condition. This is the second most common musculoskeletal ailment after osteoarthritis, which generally affects middle-aged women. The study results suggest that this disease is not only related to greater processing of pain-related signals but also potentially related to misprocessing of other types of non-painful sensory signals that may be important during the treatment process.

As part of the study, researchers analyzed brain responses among 35 women suffering from this disease and 25 other women without this disease. They used “functional magnetic resonance imaging” to measure the blood flow changes in the brain. The main findings of the study include –

  • Fibromyalgia patients were more receptive to non-painful stimulation compared to those without this disorder.
  • Researchers showed the survey participants some colors, played some tones and asked to perform simple motor tasks like touching the tip of the right thumb with another finger. It was found that the areas of the brain’s cortex primarily responsible for processing visual, auditory and motor signals were activated in the healthy group, but not in the fibromyalgia group. However, the other brain regions that were not relevant for primary processing were activated in patients suffering from this disease but not in the healthy group.
  • Researchers found that the brains of patients with this musculoskeletal ailment are under-processing certain forms of sensory information during the first stages and further they amplify the signals at a later level of sensory integration of multiple sensory inputs.

The study findings signify that prominent psychological strategies aimed at changing the attention from the body to external cues can prove to be useful for these patients. In addition, there is increasing evidence that fibromyalgia is not just a pain condition. More research done on fibromyalgia patients indicates that they experience a central processing deficit of multiple types of sensory stimuli apart from acute pain. These patients also experience fatigue, mood disturbances and have cognitive problems.

Fibromyalgia patients are usually prescribed FDA-approved anticonvulsant medications and antidepressants for better pain management. Researchers claim that advanced study in this area could possibly lead to the development of new treatment approaches.

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