A team led by researchers at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and Tel-Aviv University in Israel recently revealed that therapy based on high-pressure oxygen can improve fibromyalgia symptoms in patients. The study was published in the journal PLoS One and is entitled “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Diminish Fibromyalgia Syndrome – Prospective Clinical Trial”.
Fibromyalgia is a medical disorder characterized by widespread chronic musculoskeletal pain, incapacitating fatigue, stiffness and numbness in certain parts of the body, painful response to pressure, headaches, unrefreshing sleep (poor sleep quality), anxiety or depression and mood alterations. The disorder has been associated with abnormal brain activity. Fibromyalgia can affect people’s ability to conduct simple daily tasks, compromising their quality of life. It is estimated that 5 to 15 million Americans are affected by this disorder, especially women (9:1 female-to-male incidence ratio).
The diagnosis of fibromyalgia can be challenging, with the disease often misdiagnosed by other disorders. In addition, only a few therapies are available that can effectively ease the disease symptoms.
It has been previously reported that the exposure of patients to pure oxygen at higher-than-atmospheric pressures in hyperbaric oxygen chambers offers clinical benefits in the treatment of conditions like decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, burns and embolisms. In addition, this hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has also been found to attenuate pain, and induce neuroplasticity and repair of chronically impaired brain functions in patients after a stroke or mild brain injury.
Based on these observations, the research team hypothesized that HBOT might be able to resolve the abnormal brain function linked to fibromyalgia symptoms.
The team conducted a clinical trial (NCT01827683) where 60 women with fibromyalgia (diagnosed for at least two years prior to the study) underwent HBOT for two months. The therapy consisted of 40 sessions, 90-minute each, with pure oxygen at twice the atmospheric pressure, five days a week. All patients were evaluated in terms of pain, tender points and quality of life, and underwent single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging to assess brain activity.
Researchers found a significant improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms and quality of life in the majority of the patients. SPECT imaging revealed a rectification of the abnormal brain activity in pain related areas after HBOT.
“As a physician, the most important finding for me is that 70 percent of the patients could recover from their fibromyalgia symptoms,” said the study’s first author Dr. Shai Efrati in a news release. “The most exciting finding for the world of research, however, is that we were able to map the malfunctioning brain regions responsible for the syndrome.” The team believes that the primary factor that leads to fibromyalgia is the disruption of the brain mechanisms responsible for processing pain.
The successful HBOT therapy also allowed fibromyalgia patients to reduce considerably or even eliminate the use of pain medication. “The intake of the drugs eased the pain but did not reverse the condition. But hyperbaric oxygen treatments did reverse the condition,” noted Dr. Efrati.
The research team concluded that HBOT can improve disease symptoms and overall quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia, while drastically reducing or eliminating the use of pain medication.
“The results are of significant importance,” concluded Dr. Efrati. “Hyperbaric oxygen treatments are designed to address the actual cause of fibromyalgia — the brain pathology responsible for the syndrome. It means that brain repair, including neuronal regeneration, is possible even for chronic, long-lasting pain syndromes, and we can and should aim for that in any future treatment development.”
The research team is currently conducting comprehensive studies on the repair of brain tissue under hyperbaric oxygen conditions.