Using single photon emission tomography, researchers in France were able to detect functional abnormalities in certain regions of the brains of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia, reinforcing the idea that symptoms of the disorder are related to a dysfunction in those parts of the brain where pain is processed.
"Fibromyalgia is frequently considered an 'invisible syndrome' since musculoskeletal imaging is negative," said Eric Guedj, lead author of the study. "Past imaging studies of patients with the syndrome, however, have shown above-normal cerebral blood flow in some areas of the brain and below-normal in other areas. After performing whole-brain scans on the participants, we used a statistical analysis to study the relationship between functional activity in even the smallest area of the brain and various parameters related to pain, disability and anxiety/depression."
The researchers found that patients with the syndrome exhibited brain perfusion (above-normal cerebral blood flow) abnormalities in comparison to the healthy subjects. Furthermore, these abnormalities were found to be directly correlated with the severity of the disease. An increase in perfusion (hyperperfusion) was found in that region of the brain known to discriminate pain intensity, and a decrease (hypoperfusion) was found within those areas thought to be involved in emotional responses to pain.
In the past, some researchers have thought that the pain reported by fibromyalgia patients was the result of depression rather than symptoms of a disorder. "Interestingly, we found that these functional abnormalities were independent of anxiety and depression status," Guedj said.
"Fibromyalgia may be related to a global dysfunction of cerebral pain-processing," Guedj added. "This study demonstrates that these patients exhibit modifications of brain perfusion not found in healthy subjects and reinforces the idea that fibromyalgia is a 'real' disease/disorder."
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Source: Society of Nuclear Medicine