Fibromyalgia: Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment

By Joseph Gustaitis

Fibromyalgia: Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment

People who have arthritis have probably heard of a similar condition known as fibromyalgia or fibromyalgia syndrome. It’s a common disorder characterized by chronic pain, mood changes, fatigue and memory problems. It’s more of a collection of symptoms than a single disease. It’s not a type of arthritis, but it has several things in common with arthritis. For one, it can cause a good deal of pain and fatigue. Also,  like arthritis, it is a rheumatic condition in that it harms the joints, the soft tissues or both and is a cause of chronic pain. For unknown reasons, it’s much more common in women than in men.

Recently, researchers at Rice University and in Israel conducted an unusual study to test an unconventional treatment for fibromyalgia—the use of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment was developed decades ago to treat deep sea divers who contracted a painful condition known as “the bends,” which involves bubbles of gas forming in body tissues. Since then, hyperbaric oxygen treatment has been found to be effective in treating other conditions such as burns, embolisms and carbon monoxide poisoning. The treatment involves placing a patient in a chamber containing pure oxygen under higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure.

The researchers recruited 60 women, 48 of whom completed the study. Half of the women were given hyperbaric oxygen treatments five days a week over a period of four months, for a total of 40 treatments. The treatments took 90 minutes and exposed the patients to pure oxygen at twice the normal atmospheric pressure. The women who weren’t treated served as a control group; they were, however, given hyperbaric oxygen treatments after the study was completed.

The results were impressive: Every one of the women treated showed improvement. After the treatments, the women were given brain scans; the ones who had shown the most improvement were found to have significant changes in brain activity—an indication that at least for these women, their symptoms of fibromyalgia had to do with the interpretation of pain in the brain. Some of the women who participated were able to reduce their use of pain medications; others were able to discontinue them entirely. The researchers also found the women whose fibromyalgia had been caused by traumatic brain injury could expect complete resolution of their symptoms without the need for further treatment. Women whose fibromyalgia had been caused by other things such as disease probably would need follow-up treatment, or what the researchers called “periodic maintenance therapy.”

Last Reviewed November 9, 2015

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Joseph Gustaitis is a freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area.

Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

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