The Pain From Fibromyalgia
is Real, Researchers Say
Many people with fibromyalgia—a debilitating
pain syndrome that affects 2 to 4 percent of the population—
have faced the question of whether the condition is real.
Fibromyalgia often has been misdiagnosed as arthritis
or even a psychological issue. Increasingly, though, the scientific
knowledge about fibromyalgia is growing, and a new paper from the
University of Michigan Health System says there are “overwhelming
data” that the condition is real, is characterized by a lower
pain threshold and is associated with genetic factors that can make
some people more likely to develop fibromyalgia.
The review paper, in the December issue of the
journal Current Pain and Headache Reports, cites recent
studies involving pain, genetics, brain activity and more. The paper’s
authors hope these findings will lead to a better understanding
and acceptance of fibromyalgia and related conditions, such as chronic
“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,” says Richard E.
Harris, Ph.D., research investigator in the Division of Rheumatology
at the U-M Medical School's Department of Internal Medicine and
a researcher at the U-M Health System's Chronic Pain and Fatigue
Research Center, in university press release.
A growing amount of research related to the neurobiology
of the condition supports the notion that the pain of fibromyalgia
is real. Studies at U-M and elsewhere using two neuroimaging techniques—functional
magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and single photon emission computed
tomography (SPECT)—indicate there is a difference between
patients with and without fibromyalgia.
“In people without pain, these structures
encode pain sensations normally. In people with fibromyalgia, the
neural activity increased,” says Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., director
of the U-M Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center and professor
of rheumatology at the U-M Medical School, and an author of the
new paper. “These studies indicate that fibromyalgia patients
have abnormalities within their central brain structures.”
For more information, visit http://www2.med.umich.edu/prmc/media/relarch.cfm.