A study published in PLoS ONE has found that women with fibromyalgia were able to drastically reduce, or even eliminate, their use of pain medication following hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
The study authors believe they have also identified the primary factor causing fibromyalgia: the disruption of the brain mechanism for processing pain.
“As a physician, the most important finding for me is that 70% of the patients could recover from their fibromyalgia symptoms,” said Shai Efrati, MD, MD, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel. “The most exciting finding for the world of research, however, is that we were able to map the malfunctioning brain regions responsible for the syndrome.”
The clinical trial, which exposed participants to 2 months of hyberbaric oxygen therapy, found significant changes in the brain activity and symptoms in 70% of participants. The trial involved 60 women who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia at least 2 years earlier. Half of the 48 patients who completed the therapy received 40 hyperbaric oxygen treatments — 90-minute treatments exposing patients to pure oxygen at twice the atmospheric pressure, 5 days a week over the course of 2 months.
The successful treatment enabled patients to drastically reduce or even eliminate their use of pain medications.
“The intake of the drugs eased the pain but did not reverse the condition, but hyperbaric oxygen treatments did reverse the condition,” said Dr. Efrati. “The results are of significant importance. Hyperbaric oxygen treatments are designed to address the actual cause of fibromyalgia — the brain pathology responsible for the syndrome. It means that brain repair, including neuronal regeneration, is possible even for chronic, long-lasting pain syndromes, and we can and should aim for that in any future treatment development.”
The researchers did find some discrepancies among patients with different fibromyalgia catalysts. When fibromyalgia was triggered by a traumatic brain injury, for example, they witnessed a complete resolution without any need for further treatment. But when the trigger was attributed to other causes, such as fever-related diseases, patients required periodic maintenance therapy.
The researchers are continuing to conduct comprehensive studies on the renewal of brain tissue under hyperbaric conditions.