Early Treatment Crucial
Research has uncovered the fact that the brains of fibromyalgia sufferers show reduced activity in those areas responsible for inhibiting pain. Furthermore, it has been proven that drugs affecting the central nervous system are effective measures for treating fibromyalgia, in particular when they are administered early on. These new facts have been revealed in a thesis written by Karin B. Jensen, a postgraduate student at the Swedish medical university, the Karolinska Instituet.
Jensen, hailing from the Instituet's Department of Clinical Neuroscience said, "It's a common misconception that fibromyalgia is a manifestation of mental problems. But in the studies that comprise my thesis, we've made careful measurements and have found no correlation at all between pain sensitivity in fibromyalgia patients and the degree of anxiety or depression they show."
In one study performed by Jensen's team, two groups of participants—one with fibromyalgia, the other healthy—had their thumbs squeezed until they felt mild pain. By employing functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, the researchers were able to demonstrate that both groups displayed similar levels of activity in those parts of the brain that experience emotions as well as those areas which contain the thumb's assensory information. But the fibromyalgia group had less activity in the part of the brain that attempts to inhibit pain.
Further, the team found that drugs acting on the central nervous system, for instance SNRI antidepressants are an effective treatment for fibromyalgia. However, it is not the antidepressant nature of the drugs that work against fibromyalgia, but rather other properties inherent in these medications.
Jensen elaborates that those patients who had experienced pain for the shortest period of time were the most responsive to the medications tested. This suggests that patients receiving the medication early on in the course of their disease had shown the best response. The researcher believes that this is further proof of how imperative it is that fibromyalgia be detected and treated as soon as possible.
Jensen's thesis also treats the idea of a relationship between pain regulation and genetics. Studies performed on healthy subjects prove a connection between a certain genetic variation and response to drugs such as morphine in relation to repetitive pain stimulus. While still under study, it appears this gene only affects the body's ability to regulate pain at times of psychological distress. The research team believes this knowledge may one day prove crucial in the development of more personalized treatment which might lead to improved, more efficacious pain relief.