Pure Oxygen therapy – a new treatment for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a full body pain syndrome. It affects nine times more women than men and leads to sufferers hurting all over in their muscles. It is characterised by specific ‘knotted ‘ areas of the muscles which are acutely painful to the touch – these points are known as Trigger points. It has been described to me like having the worst flu symptoms but all of the time often with fatigue and poor sleep.
The condition is poorly understood because no single cause has been traced and so there is no one treatment that fits all. As a result a variety of approaches are usually implemented and consist of mechanical treatments, medications, lifestyle changes and cognitive behavioural therapy. Some Fibromyalgia patients have coexisting sleep apnoea – abnormal breathing patterns at night, and so they use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine which can bring about an improvement in their Fibromyalgia symptoms. This improvement is believed to be due to the increased oxygen flow to their brain and other tissues. On the back of this observation, new research has been carried out giving fibromyalgia sufferers Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HOT)?
HOT is best known for treating “the bends” in scuba divers. The divers are put into a large high pressure metal chamber and they stay there for extended periods of time (e.g. 24 hours), during which time they breathe 100% oxygen at double the pressure we breathe it in normally. This is used to release the nitrogen in the blood and tissues which causes the acute pain and neurological symptoms. In the USA, HOT has been approved for the treatment of various conditions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) e.g. decompression sickness among scuba divers; diabetic wounds; radiation injury from cancer treatments; serious infections; severe burns, and carbon monoxide poisoning.
What did the researchers do?
The new study included 48 women who had been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and who had a FMRI – a specialist MRI which was able to map out the areas of the brain showing abnormal pain function. Half underwent 40 sessions of HOT treatments over two months. The treatments were given five times a week. They lasted 90 minutes each session. During the treatment, patients breathed 100 percent oxygen pressurized to twice the normal air pressure. After a two-month delay, the other 24 women in the study were then exposed to the same hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment as the first group.
- Both groups experienced similar symptom relief.
- Patients were able to significantly reduce or even eliminate their use of pain medications.
Amazingly, lead study author Dr. Efrati, director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Tel Aviv, Israel reported that the FMRI brain scans of the patients showed that two months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy seemed to have also repaired abnormal brain activity in pain-related areas of the brain. At the end of the treatment using accepted diagnostic criteria 70% of the patients could no longer be categorised as suffering from Fibromyalgia. The good correlation between the physiological improvements and the changes in FMRI brain functionality make the results particularly convincing commented Dr Efrati.
Also commenting on the study Dr. Dang, a pain management specialist at Houston Methodist Hospital said, “I think this could give patients another option to help manage their pain from Fibromyalgia. It’s a debilitating pain where there aren’t a whole lot of treatment options available and these patients will experience pain for pretty much the whole day. Fibromyalgia isn’t a well-understood disorder and there are a lot of different components to it. This HOT treatment may be one good option for these patients.”
In the USA their mainstream private insurance companies are unlikely to cover the cost of HOT for Fibromyalgia at this point until it gets FDA approval as the cost would run to tens of thousands of dollars – however watch this space.
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