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Fibromyalgia: New Study Finds Brain Abnormality

[Posted 12/03/96] On Sunday, Oct. 20, 1996, the American College of Rheumatology issued a press release outlining a new study which demonstrates a brain abnormality which may help explain fibromyalgia.

The study, presented at the American College of Rheumatology national meeting in Orlando, was performed by at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It found that people with fibromyalgia, regardless of whether they are seen in a rheumatology clinic setting or are recruited from the community, have diminished flow of blood to parts of the brain and an increase in the chemical Substance P that helps transmit pain signals.

One of the study's authors, Laurence Bradley is quoted as saying: "This finding should provide some relief to millions of people who’ve been told that their pain is all in their head…Now that we know there are physical abnormalities in a wide variety of people with this disorder, we can focus our research to determine why the blood flow is reduced and the levels of Substance P are higher. This may be a lead in developing treatments for this painful disorder."

(Editor’s Note: Fibromyalgia is a common problem affecting up to 5% of the population. It can mimic muscular problems caused by repetitive arm use. Because the treatments for the two conditions vary considerably, an ability to differentiate between these conditions is important in determining appropriate therapy. This study by Bradley and others follows their 1995 study reporting similar findings (Arthritis Rheum 1995 Jul;38(7):926–38). This line of investigation deserves close monitoring. wln)