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The Secrets of Fibromyalgia Slowly Revealed

Oct 02, 2014 09:06 PM EDT
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Researchers are one step closer to understanding the mysterious disease of constant and widespread pain.

Fibromyalgia has been a disorder that has left experts scratching their heads for years, largely because the mechanics behind the sensation of pain itself are still very fuzzy to even the world's most learned professionals. Now, researchers from Sweden have found that the disorder is linked to abnormal activity in parts of the brain that process pain signals and link them to other regions.

Christopher Pawela, the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal Brain Connectivity, is particularly excited about this study, which appeared in the journal last August.

"Fibromyalgia is an understudied condition with an unknown cause that can only be diagnosed by its symptoms," he explained in a recent statement. "This study by Flodin et al is an important first step in the understanding of how the brain is involved in the widespread pain perception that is characteristic of the disorder."

For the study, 16 women who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and 22 healthy women underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans while having varying levels of pressure (and thus pain) applied to their thumbs. Prior to this test, the machines had been calibrated to account for each participant's pain sensitivity, as past research has shown that pain sensitivity may be dependent on genetic expression and heavily varies from person-to-person. Unsurprisingly, the fibromyalgia participants proved more sensitive during these preliminary tests.

Interestingly, analysis of the resulting brain scans showed significant differences in brain patterns between the healthy participants and those with fibromyalgia. The fibromyalgia women showed "functional decoupling" - decreased connectivity between pain-related and sensorimotor brain areas.

The authors suggest this reduction in brain connectivity could impair pain perception, potentially increasing sensitivity.

Another study published earlier this year in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology had showed a very direct link to restless "non-restorative sleep" and fibromyalgia. This helps support this newer study, as it is well understood that there is a clear connection between difficulty sleeping and impaired neural function. However, a cause and effect relationship has yet to be proven.

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