Is Fibromyalgia affected by dysfunction in the brain?

Since fibromyalgia has been recognized as a serious condition in 1990, researchers have been hard at work to understand the disease and find treatments for the puzzling symptoms. So far, a limited number of drugs have been approved by the FDA to treat the disease (e.g., Lyrica and Cymbalta) though many new drugs are now being tested. There is still no cure for the disease and doctors still do not know what causes it. That said, a study has found that dysfunction in a portion of the brain may be responsible for some of the condition's symptoms.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Rheumatology and led by Dr. Yasser Emad of Cairo University, Egypt, used proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy to examine the hippocampus in 25 female patients. The hippocampus is part of the olfactory cortex and involved in regulating memory and emotions. Fifteen of the patients had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and ten of the patients were healthy women with no fibromyalgia. The average age of the female patients was 35 years old and the patients with fibromyalgia had symptoms such as sleep disturbances and depression.

The researchers studied levels of brain chemicals in the patients such as choline, creatine and N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) and compared them within the two groups. They also studied the sleep patterns, symptoms of depression and cognitive functions of the study participants and tested tender points on the body for pain. What they found was that the NAA levels of the hippocampi (right and left) were lower in patients with fibromyalgia and the choline levels in the right hippocampus were higher in those with fibromyalgia. They also found that those with fibromyalgia has significantly lower ratios of NAA to choline and creatine.

The researchers concluded that those with fibromyalgia clearly had metabolic dysfunctional hippocampus. Though they are still puzzled by the disease, knowing that the hippocampus has a role in fibromyalgia is a huge step in the right direction. This new information allows them to study the hippocampus more fully and find out how this portion of the brain, which controls sleep regulation, pain perception and cognitive functions, can affect the symptoms of fibromyalgia and how it can be used in future treatment methods.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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