The Pain is All Too Real
2-4% of the population suffers from the debilitating condition known as fibromyalgia, yet most of them have been accused of hypochondria—of faking their symptoms. This is, in part, due to the fact that no one can see pain, and there’s no resultant structural damage to the organs in fibromyalgia. So, the disease gets misdiagnosed as arthritis, or they call in the psychiatrists, deciding that the symptoms are all in your head.
Well, thank goodness, this has begun to change due to the body of research data that is growing at a constant rate and turning up lots of hardcore data. In one of the latest twists and turns in the fibromyalgia credibility game is a paper published by the University of Michigan Health System which found what it calls “overwhelming data,” that the condition really exists, is characterized by a lowered threshold for pain, and is linked to genetic factors that can predispose some people to develop the condition.
The report was published in the journal known as Current Pain and Headache Reports, and quotes various studies on fibromyalgia relating to brain activity, chronic pain, genetic predisposition, and more. It is the hope of the authors of this paper, that such findings will bring greater acceptance of the disease and its associated conditions.
Richard E. Harris, Ph.D., research investigator in the Division of Rheumatology at the U of M Medical School’s Department of Internal Medicine and a researcher at the U of M Health System’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, comments, “It is time for us to move past the rhetoric about whether these conditions are real, and take these patients seriously as we endeavor to learn more about the causes and most effective treatments for these disorders.”
Harris hopes to bring credibility to a disease for which there is a growing body of research relating to the neurobiology of the condition which supports the idea that fibromyalgia is a real disease. Various imaging studies performed at the U of M and elsewhere, such as (fMRI) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) show that there is a difference in the brains of those patients with fibromyalgia as compared to those patients without the condition.
Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., director of the U of M Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center and professor of rheumatology at the U of M Medical School, as well as an author of the report states, “In people with fibromyalgia, the neural activity increased. These studies indicate that fibromyalgia patients have abnormalities within their central brain structures.”
As far back as 2003, the U of M published a report in Science reporting a variation in the gene that is responsible for encoding the enzyme known as catchol-O-methyl transferase, or COMT, and which makes for a significant difference in the way that healthy individuals perceive pain. Research also suggests various mutations of the COMT gene may be connected to a condition associated with fibromyalogia known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD or TMJ).
Clauw comments that it is becoming ever clearer that there is a genetic factor to how an individual perceives and tolerates pain.