I stumbled upon this article about a doctor who has spent practically his whole career studying fibromyalgia and working with fibromyalgia sufferers. It has a good synopsis of how far research has come on fibromyalgia since the diagnosis first started appearing in the 1980s. I know I get frustrated sometimes at the lack of research being done into this invisible disease, but this article is a good reminder that things are being discovered and that our knowledge of this disease has come a long way, even if we still don’t understand so much about it. I won’t post the whole article here but I recommend reading it. Below are the bits I found most interesting.
(I loved the metaphors he uses to describe how fibromyalgia works, how our brains interpret pain signals. These are probably the best metaphors for fibromyalgia I have heard.
Russell used a metaphor of two radios: One has a volume knob that works, but the other blares even the subtlest sounds as painful screeches. What feels like a touch to most people feels like a poke to people with fibromyalgia.
Researchers found that in the brains of people with fibromyalgia, pain centers lit up if a thumbnail was pressed with relatively minor pressure. The person felt real pain.
Cerebral spinal fluid samples extracted from fibromyalgia sufferers hinted at the processes, Russell said.
Fibromyalgia sufferers typically have three times the normal level of substance P, a pain amplifier, he said. Blocking substance P reduced pain in hands, he said, but not widespread pain. Substance P was one piece of the puzzle.
Fibromyalgia sufferers also have diminished levels of two important brain signaling chemicals, serotonin and norepinephrine. Prozac, a common antidepressant, works by increasing brain serotonin.
About 40 percent of fibromyalgia patients also experience mood disorders, suggesting a connection, Russell said, but Prozac didn’t ease their pain.
Fibromyalgia sufferers were later found to have high levels of glutamate, the main chemical involved in experiencing pain, Russell said.
Also elevated was a chemical called nerve growth factor, which stimulates repair in brain circuitry. That begs the question, Russell said, “Repair from what?”
Brain scans have shown that people with fibromyalgia lose gray matter — home to thought and memory — more quickly than others.
Sufferers of other types of chronic pain experience similar losses in gray matter, he said. The connection between pain and nerve death isn’t clear.
Earlier this year, researchers discovered a gene highly associated with fibromyalgia. It may predispose some people to develop the disease.