Did Ghent scientists find cause of fibromyalgia?

NEWS More and more scientists are locating the cause of the mysterious disease fibromyalgia in the brain, and according to a new study by Ghent scientists, the core of the problem lies specifically in the brain region, the insula. The Flemish research provides an explanation for the broad complaint pattern of fibromyalgia patients and could open the door for innovative treatments.
 It is estimated that about 3 to 6% of the world’s population suffers from fibromyalgia. Patients suffer from chronic pain, general muscle stiffness and increased sensitivity in a number of specific areas of the body – so-called pressure points. Other common symptoms are fatigue, headache, sleep disturbances, intestinal complaints, anxiety and stress, concentration problems and sensitivity to temperature changes.

Partly because there are so many different symptoms, it is difficult for scientists to determine the physical mechanism underlying the condition, which is also very controversial in the medical world. As a result, making the diagnosis is a very complicated process, patients often face a lot of misunderstanding and no concrete treatment for the disease itself is available. The complaints can be combated with, among other things, certain medicines, adequate rest, (moderate) movement, relaxation exercises and therapeutic support.

Specific brain area

In recent years, more and more scientists have become convinced that the key to finding a cure lies in the brain. Several promising studies have already appeared on the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on fibromyalgia patients. With TMS, an electrical current is generated in the brain, to which the brain cells respond.

Scientists from UZ Gent and UGent now think they have found a specific cause of fibromyalgia in the brain. According to them, the condition is due to an imbalance of certain chemicals called neurotransmitters in the area of ​​the brain called the insula. The insula is responsible for the analysis of sensory stimuli and is also involved in pain experiences and the emotional and behavioral responses to pain. 

Relation to other syndromes

According to the scientists from Ghent, their hypothesis explains why fibromyalgia patients have to deal with so many different symptoms. It also provides an explanation for the link with a number of other syndromes common in these patients, such as irritable bowel, obstructive sleep apnea, and chronic fatigue. The scientists also establish a connection between disturbances of the insula and the occurrence of the thin fiber pathology, which refers to damage to the thin nerve fibers and can lead to pain, tingling or sensory disturbances, among other things.

Hope for treatments

Of course, further research is needed on this hypothesis and it remains to be seen whether it can actually provide new treatments for fibromyalgia. The researchers already point to hopeful results from tests with medicinal neuromodulators, devices that send small electrical signals to a nerve. Important steps can also be taken in the use of brain stimulation. In addition to these innovative interventions, it will continue to be important that patients, for example, also take sufficient exercise and rest.  

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