The Chronic Pain of Fibromyalgia

What is Fibromyalgia?  

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia can include extreme fatigue, sleep problems and cognitive/psychological issues, but it is the chronic pain – long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissue – that is the primary complaint of people with Fibromyalgia. 

Also known as Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS), Fibromyalgia (FM) affects more than 4 million Americans, or 1 in 50 adults, according to the CDC. Other sources estimate that up to 70 percent of people with fibromyalgia have not been diagnosed, so the true figures may be much higher.

Getting an accurate diagnosis of Fibromyalgia can be frustrating and difficult. The American Chronic Pain Association says it takes an average of 5 years for a fibromyalgia patient to receive a diagnosis. It’s complicated. Patients are often referred to numerous physicians, including a variety of specialists before receiving a diagnosis.

There are no common lab tests available to confirm FM and its symptoms can overlap with other pain disorders and medical conditions – from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and ankylosing spondylitis to IBS or Major Depressive Disorder. 

Although the disease has been clinically recognized and studied for decades, (the first controlled clinical study to validate Fibromyalgia was published in 1981), myths and misperceptions persist that it is not a ‘real’ illness. 

The condition can affect men, women, or children of all ages, but Fibromyalgia has been thought of as a “women’s disease”. 

Women aged 40 to 60 years compose 70-90% of diagnosed Fibromyalgia patients,

and therefore it has been frequently dismissed by medical professionals as being a mental health issue, overreaction to stress, a symptom of menopause or a case of hypochondria or ‘attention-seeking behavior’ – no wonder people wait for years before a diagnosis!

According to a 2012 survey, The majority (77%) of fibromyalgia patients waited up to three years before seeking help from a healthcare professional.  

  • 70% of people hesitated because they thought the symptoms would go away
  • 34% of people were motivated to seek help because their symptoms became unbearable 
  • 55% of people reported that talking to their healthcare provider was a good decision 

Fibromyalgia patients may also delay seeking treatment because they may be judging themselves as lazy, weak, or “a complainer”, or they may be fearing that they will be viewed that way by society and the medical community. A confusing part of FM’s chronic pain is that it varies from day to day; some days you may feel almost “normal” while other days it is difficult to do the simplest task. Fluctuating symptoms can be a frustration for patients (who are trying to accurately describe their condition)  and health care providers who are trying to pinpoint a diagnosis. Family and friends may not understand the impact of symptoms that seemingly come and go. The ACPA survey reveals that while the public may not completely understand fibromyalgia’s impact, they think of people with the condition as courageous and strong. 

An accurate diagnosis may yield many benefits – it can help clinicians rule out other diseases, confirm that patients’ symptoms aren’t imagined, and guide clinicians toward disease recognition and appropriate treatment.

Recent studies have revealed specific biomarkers that identify Fibromyalgia:

  • Neuroimaging – positron emission tomography (PET), single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have identified structural and neurochemical changes in the brains of patients with fibromyalgia.
  • CFS Testing – The levels of two proteins known as APOC1 and autotaxin are increased in the cerebral spinal fluid of people with fibromyalgia.
  • Blood – Researchers have discovered clear, reproducible metabolic patterns in the blood of patients with fibromyalgia, which may lead to a blood test for FM
  • Microbiome – Scientists have just recently found a correlation between fibromyalgia and alterations in the gut microbiome

We don’t know yet if these are a cause or an effect of Fibromyalgia, but it is further evidence that it’s not ‘all in your head’, Marco Loggia, PhD, of MGH’s Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, says, “… finding objective neurochemical changes in the brains of patients with fibromyalgia should help reduce the persistent stigma that many patients face, often being told their symptoms are imaginary and there’s nothing really wrong with them,”

We still don’t know exactly what causes FM/FMS and there is no identified cure, but there are treatments that can help.

There are currently three drugs that are FDA approved for the management of fibromyalgia: pregabalin (Lyrica), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and milnacipran (Savella), and these are effective for some patients. Other options such as education, exercise, and cognitive behavior therapies have also been shown to be helpful for managing FM. 

What’s exciting to us is that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has been studied as a fibromyalgia treatment and findings validate HBOT as an effective, rapid and safe means of treating FM.

Patients who were resistant to the common pharmacological treatment have benefitted from HBOT, too. Data shows that HBOT resulted in significant clinical improvement for these patients where other options failed. Studies show a reduction in pain and muscle fatigue after HBOT. 

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy led to significant amelioration of all FM symptoms, in another study, with significant improvement in quality of life for all participants. 

The effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for treatment of Fibromyalgia is well documented. More than a decade ago, scientists discovered that HBOT produces a significant reduction in the number and threshold of tender points and in many FM cases, also decreases or eliminates the need for pain relieving medications.  

Patients who choose HBOT for fibromyalgia can expect rapid improvement in their symptoms’ severity, and also in their quality of life and general well-being.

Is HBOT right for you?

Call 585-426-8969 or visit us at Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy of Western New York 

We’d love to answer any questions you might have.