Hyperbaric hope for fibromyalgia sufferers

June 2, 2015, Rice University
Two 20-seat hyperbaric chambers at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel were used in a study to see if hyperbaric oxygen treatment could help patients with fibromyalgia. A new study by researchers at Rice University and institutions in Israel showed patients in a small trial experienced remarkable improvement after two months of treatment. Credit: Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research

Women who suffer from fibromyalgia benefit from a treatment regimen in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, according to researchers at Rice University and institutes in Israel.

A clinical trial involving women diagnosed with showed the painful condition improved in every one of the 48 who completed two months of . Brain scans of the women before and after treatment gave credence to the theory that abnormal conditions in pain-related areas of the may be responsible for the syndrome.

Results of the study appear in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that can be accompanied by - and perhaps related to - other physical and mental conditions that include fatigue, cognitive impairment, irritable bowel syndrome and sleep disturbance.

More than 90 percent of those diagnosed with the syndrome are women, said Eshel Ben-Jacob, a lead author of the proof-of-concept study who developed the analytical method used to show the association between ' improvement and changes in their brains. He is an adjunct professor of biosciences at Rice University, a senior investigator at Rice's Center for Theoretical Biological Physics and a professor of physics and member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University.

"Symptoms in about 70 percent of the women who took part have to do with the interpretation of pain in their brains," Ben-Jacob said. "They're the ones who showed the most improvement with hyperbaric oxygen treatment. We found significant changes in their brain activity."

Scientists have not pinned down the syndrome's cause, although another recent PLOS One study identified a possible RNA-based biomarker for its diagnosis. A variety of treatments from drugs to lifestyle changes have been tried to relieve patients' suffering, with limited success, Ben-Jacob said.

"Most people have never heard of fibromyalgia," he said. "And many who have, including some medical doctors, don't admit that this is a real disorder. I learned from my M.D. friends that this is not the only case in which disorders that target mainly women raise skepticism in the medical community as to whether they're real or not. However, these days there are increasing efforts to understand the effect of gender on body disorders."

The interior of a hyperbaric chamber at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel, used to treat patients with fibromyalgia in a recent trial. A new study showed patients who completed a two-month regimen of treatment experienced significant improvements in their health. Credit: Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research

Researchers at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and Tel Aviv University were studying post-traumatic patients when they realized hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) could help patients with fibromyalgia.

"Patients who had fibromyalgia in addition to their post-concussion symptoms had complete resolution of the symptoms," said Dr. Shai Efrati, who noted his own mother suffers from the syndrome. Efrati is lead author of the study, head of the research and development unit at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and a member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University.

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers that expose patients to pure oxygen at higher-than-atmospheric pressures are commonly used to treat patients with embolisms, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning and decompression sickness (known to divers as "the bends"), among many other conditions.

One effect of exposure is to push more oxygen into a patient's bloodstream, which delivers it to the brain. Efrati's earlier trials found HBOT induces neuroplasticity that leads to repair of chronically impaired brain functions and improved quality of life for post-stroke and mild traumatic , even years after the initial injury.

Ben-Jacob said two patients spearheaded the push for the study. One was an Oxford graduate student who developed fibromyalgia after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a train crash. "By chance, the secretary of the department where she worked is the mother of the nurse in charge of the HBOT. She said you have to go and try to do it," he recalled.

The other, he said, is a professor of sociology who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorders due to child abuse. The professor had suffered from fibromyalgia for many years. Her symptoms got worse through the initial treatments - a common experience for other patients in the study who she said had suppressed memories due to child abuse - before they got better. But by the end of treatment both women showed remarkable improvement, Ben-Jacob said.

Efrati said some patients will likely require follow-up sessions. "The abnormalities in brain regions responsible for the chronic pain sensation in fibromyalgia patients can be triggered by different events," he said. "Accordingly, the long-term response may be different.

"We have learned, for example, that when fibromyalgia is triggered by , we can expect complete resolution without any need for further treatment. However, when the trigger is attributed to other causes, such as fever-related diseases, patients will probably need periodic maintenance therapy."

The clinical trial involved 60 women who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia at least two years earlier. A dozen left the trial for various reasons, but half of the 48 patients who completed it received 40 HBOT treatments five days a week over two months. Half of the 48 patients who completed the trial received 40 HBOT treatments five days a week over two months. The 90-minute treatments exposed patients to pure oxygen at two times the atmospheric pressure.

The other half were part of what Ben-Jacob called a crossover-control group. They were evaluated before the trial and after a control period that saw no improvement in their conditions. After the two-month control, they were given the same HBOT treatment as the first group and experienced the same relief, according to the researchers.

The researchers noted the successful treatment enabled patients to drastically reduce or even eliminate their use of pain medications. "The intake of the drugs eased the pain but did not reverse the condition, while HBOT did reverse the condition," the researchers wrote.

Efrati said the findings warrant further study. "The results are of significant importance since, unlike the current treatments offered for fibromyalgia patients, HBOT is not aiming for just symptomatic improvement," he said. "HBOT is aiming for the actual cause—the brain pathology responsible for the syndrome. It means that brain repair, including even neuronal regeneration, is possible even for chronic, long-lasting pain syndromes, and we can and should aim for that in any future treatment development."

Explore further: New hope for victims of traumatic brain injury

More information: PLOS ONE, journals.plos.org/plosone/arti … journal.pone.0127012

Related Stories

New hope for victims of traumatic brain injury

November 18, 2013
Every year, nearly two million people in the United States suffer traumatic brain injury (TBI), the leading cause of brain damage and permanent disabilities that include motor dysfunction, psychological disorders, and memory ...

Hyperbaric treatment has significantly resuscitated activity in damaged brains

January 23, 2013
Stroke, traumatic injury, and metabolic disorder are major causes of brain damage and permanent disabilities, including motor dysfunction, psychological disorders, memory loss, and more. Current therapy and rehab programs ...

Fibromyalgia and the role of brain connectivity in pain inhibition

October 1, 2014
The cause of fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome is not known. However, the results of a new study that compares brain activity in individuals with and without fibromyalgia indicate that decreased connectivity between pain-related ...

New research could lead to a blood test for common pain syndrome fibromyalgia

May 12, 2015
New UK research could lead to a blood test to diagnose the common pain condition, fibromyalgia.

Hypersensitivity to non-painful events may be part of pathology in fibromyalgia

September 15, 2014
New research shows that patients with fibromyalgia have hypersensitivity to non-painful events based on images of the patients' brains, which show reduced activation in primary sensory regions and increased activation in ...

Researchers testing non-drug treatment for fibromyalgia

October 9, 2014
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) are testing a non-drug treatment for fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic and widespread pain.

Recommended for you

Taking the virus out of a mosquito's bite

December 12, 2018
They approach with the telltale sign—a high-pitched whine. It's a warning that you are a mosquito's next meal. But that mosquito might carry a virus, and now the virus is in you. Now, with the help of state-of-the-art technology, ...

Study identifies a key cellular mechanism that triggers pneumonia in humans

December 11, 2018
The relationship between influenza and pneumonia has long been observed by health workers. Its genetic and cellular mechanisms have now been investigated in depth by scientists in a study involving volunteers and conducted ...

Human antibody discovery could save lives from fungal killer

December 11, 2018
A new way to diagnose, treat and protect against stealth fungal infections that claim more than 1.5 million lives per year worldwide has been moved a step closer, according to research published in Nature Communications.

Effect of oral alfacalcidol on clinical outcomes in patients without secondary hyperparathyroidism

December 11, 2018
Treatment with active vitamin D did not decrease cardiovascular events in kidney patients undergoing hemodialysis, according to a research group in Japan. They have reported their research results in the December 11 issue ...

Dialysis patients at risk of progressive brain injury

December 10, 2018
Kidney dialysis can cause short-term 'cerebral stunning' and may be associated with progressive brain injury in those who receive the treatment for many years. For many patients with kidney failure awaiting a kidney transplant ...

PET scans to optimize tuberculosis meningitis treatments and personalize care, study finds

December 6, 2018
Although relatively rare in the United States, and accounting for fewer than 5 percent of tuberculosis cases worldwide, TB of the brain—or tuberculosis meningitis (TBM)—is often deadly, always hard to treat, and a particular ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

carleenbradbury
not rated yet Jun 04, 2015
Where can I sign up for this treatment? It sounds very promising.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.