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Hyperbaric Treatment Helps Women With Fibromyalgia

Therapy allows patients to reduce or eliminate pain medications

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

A clinical trial involving women diagnosed with fibromyalgia showed that the painful condition improved in all of the 48 subjects who completed 2 months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). Brain scans of the women before and after treatment supported the theory that abnormal conditions in pain-related areas of the brain may be responsible for the syndrome, the researchers say.

Results from the study were published in the open-access journal PLOS One.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that can be accompanied by –– and is perhaps related to –– other physical and mental conditions, including fatigue, cognitive impairment, irritable bowel syndrome, and sleep disturbance. More than 90% of patients diagnosed with the syndrome are women, said co-author Dr. Eshel Ben-Jacob, who developed the analytical method used to show the association between patients’ improvement and changes in their brains.

“Symptoms in about 70 percent of the women who took part [in the study] had 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.”

Researchers at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and Tel Aviv University were studying patients with post-traumatic brain injury patients when they realized that HBOT could help patients with fibromyalgia.

“Patients who had fibromyalgia in addition to their post-concussion symptoms had complete resolution of their symptoms,” said co-author Dr. Shai Efrati.

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers, which 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 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 that HBOT induces neuroplasticity, which leads to the repair of chronically impaired brain functions and to improved quality of life for post-stroke and mild traumatic brain-injury patients, even years after the initial injury, he said.

The clinical study involved 48 women who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia at least 2 years earlier. Of these subjects, half received HBOT for 2 months. The 90-minute treatments exposed patients to pure oxygen at two times the atmospheric pressure. The remaining 24 patients comprised the control group. These subjects were evaluated before the trial and after a 2-month control period, and showed no improvement in their conditions. After the control period, they were given the same HBOT treatments as the first group and experienced the same relief, according to the researchers.

The authors noted that the successful treatment allowed patients to dramatically reduce or 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.

Sources: Rice University; June 2, 2015; and PLOS One; May 26, 2015.

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