The University Record, July 1, 2002

Study shows fibromyalgia pain isn’t all in patients’ heads

By Kara Gavin
Health Systems Public Relations

A new brain-scan study confirms scientifically what fibromyalgia patients have been telling a skeptical medical community for years: They’re really in pain.

In fact, the study finds, people with fibromyalgia say they feel severe pain and have measurable pain signals in their brains, from something as small as a gentle finger squeeze. The squeeze’s force must be doubled to cause healthy people to feel the same level of pain—and their pain signals show up in different brain areas.

The results, published in a recent issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, the journal of the American College of Rheumatology, may offer proof of fibromyalgia’s physical roots. It also may open doors for further research on the still unknown causes of the disease, which affects more than two percent of Americans.

Lead authors Richard Gracely and Daniel Clauw did the study at Georgetown University Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health but are now continuing the work at the U-M Health System (UMHS). They join an experienced team of fibromyalgia researchers already established at the University, including Leslie Crofford, a rheumatologist who co-wrote with Clauw an editorial on fibromyalgia that appears in the same journal issue as the research paper.

For decades, patients and physicians have built a case that fibromyalgia is a specific, diagnosable, chronic disease characterized by tenderness and stiffness all over the body, as well as fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and depression. Many patients with the disease find it interferes with their work, family and personal life. Statistics show that far more women than men are affected, and that it occurs most often during their childbearing years.

For more information on fibromyalgia research at UMHS, visit www.med.umich.edu/intmed/rheumatology/fmweb.