Women who suffer from fibromyalgia benefit from a treatment regimen in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, according to researchers at Rice University and institutes in Israel. A clinical trial involving women diagnosed with fibromyalgia showed the painful condition improved in every one of the 48 who completed two months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Brain scans of the women before and after treatment gave credence to the theory that abnormal conditions in pain-related areas of the brain may be responsible for the syndrome.
Researchers at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and Tel Aviv University were studying post-traumatic brain injury patients when they realized hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) could help patients with fibromyalgia.“Patients who had fibromyalgia in addition to their post-concussion symptoms had complete resolution of the symptoms,” said Dr. Shai Efrati, who noted his own mother suffers from the syndrome. Efrati is lead author of the study, head of the research and development unit at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and a member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University.
Hyperbaric oxygen chambers that expose patients to pure oxygen at higher-than-atmospheric pressures are commonly used to treat patients with embolisms, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning and decompression sickness (known to divers as “the bends”), among many other conditions.One effect of exposure is to push more oxygen into a patient’s bloodstream, which delivers it to the brain. Efrati’s earlier trials found HBOT induces neuroplasticity that leads to repair of chronically impaired brain functions and improved quality of life for post-stroke and mild traumatic brain injury patients, even years after the initial injury.
Scientists have not pinned down the syndrome’s cause, although another recent PLOS One study identified a possible RNA-based biomarker for its diagnosis. A variety of treatments from drugs to lifestyle changes have been tried to relieve patients’ suffering, with limited success, Ben-Jacob said.“Most people have never heard of fibromyalgia,” he said. “And many who have, including some medical doctors, don’t admit that this is a real disorder. I learned from my M.D. friends that this is not the only case in which disorders that target mainly women raise skepticism in the medical community as to whether they’re real or not. However, these days there are increasing efforts to understand the effect of gender on body disorders.”
Ben-Jacob said two patients spearheaded the push for the study. One was an Oxford graduate student who developed fibromyalgia after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a train crash. “By chance, the secretary of the department where she worked is the mother of the nurse in charge of the HBOT. She said you have to go and try to do it,” he recalled.