Fibromyalgia pain isn't all in patients' heads, new brain study finds

ANN ARBOR, MI A new brain-scan study confirms scientifically what fibromyalgia patients have been telling a skeptical medical community for years: Theyre really in pain.

In fact, the study finds, people with fibromyalgia say they feel severe pain, and have measurable pain signals in their brains, from a gentle finger squeeze that barely feels unpleasant to people without the disease. The squeezes force must be doubled to cause healthy people to feel the same level of pain and their pain signals show up in different brain areas.

The results, published in the current issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, the journal of the American College of Rheumatology, may offer the proof of fibromyalgias physical roots that many doubtful physicians have sought. It may also open doors for further research on the still-unknown causes of the disease, which affects more than 2 percent of Americans, mainly women.

Lead authors Richard Gracely, Ph.D., and Daniel Clauw, M.D., did the study at Georgetown University Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health, but are now continuing the work at the University of Michigan Health System. In an editorial in the same issue, Clauw and U-M rheumatologist Leslie Crofford, M.D., stress the importance of fibromyalgia research and care.

To correlate subjective pain sensation with objective views of brain signals, the researchers used a super-fast form of MRI brain imaging, called functional MRI or fMRI, on 16 fibromyalgia patients and 16 people without the disease. As a result, they say, the study offers the first objective method for corroborating what fibromyalgia patients report they feel, and whats going on in their brains at the precise moment they feel it. And, it gives researchers a road map of the areas of the brain that are most and least active when patients feel pain.

"The fMRI technology gave us a unique opportunity to look at the neurobiology underlying tenderness, which is a hallmark

Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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