How To Turn Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Into A Viable Treatment Plan

Recent studies conducted by Rice University, Tel Aviv University and Assaf Harofeh Medical Center suggest that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) may help to treat the symptoms of women with fibromyalgia. The clinical trial followed 48 women who received HBOT treatment for two months; brain scans of patients before and after also provided additional evidence for the theory that fibromyalgia may be related to abnormalities in the regions of the brain which process pain signals.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition which affects the muscles and other soft tissue and is generally described as a chronic pain condition. The symptoms include chronic pain in the muscles and joints, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, among others. The symptoms of fibromyalgia can often be alleviated to some extent through medications, lifestyle changes and stress management techniques.

The leading author of the study, Eshel Ben-Jacob, has been analyzing the link between changes in the brain and the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms. Ben-Jacob, an adjunct professor of biosciences at Rice University and physics professor as well as a member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, states that more than 90% of fibromyalgia patients are women.

Ben-Jacob explained that the symptoms of roughly 70% of the patients were tied to the way that their brains interpreted pain signals. These were the patients whose symptoms responded the best to HBOT. Another recent study indicated that fibromyalgia could potentially be diagnosed with a RNA-based biomarker. Treating the condition has been difficult, with different patients responding to different treatments. Diagnosis has been equally problematic, especially given that many doctors are still skeptical about the condition. Still more troubling is the suspicion that this skepticism may be at least partially due to the fact that the disease more often affects women.

HBOT’s potential for treating fibromyalgia came about when Israeli researchers studied its potential therapeutic use in patients with post-traumatic brain injuries. Lead author of the study, Dr. Shai Efrati wrote that patients suffering from fibromyalgia in conjunction with post-concussion symptoms found complete relief from fibromyalgia symptoms.

What Is HBOT?

HBOT involves exposing patients to a 100% oxygen environment at higher than normal atmospheric pressure inside a hyperbaric chamber. It is a common therapy for carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness, burns and embolisms.

HBOT forces more oxygen into the patient’s bloodstream and thus, the brain, something which increases neuroplasticity and allows the body to repair brain function. The study also found that HBOT can improve quality of life for post-stroke patients and patients with mild traumatic brain injuries.

The potential of HBOT to treat fibromyalgia was something that two fibromyalgia patients had pushed for. One is an Oxford grad student who experienced fibromyalgia after suffering traumatic brain injury in an accident. The other is a professor of sociology whose work centers on child abuse-induced PTSD. These patients experienced an initial exacerbation of their symptoms, which has been common for other patients, but their symptoms eventually subsided by the end of their course of HBOT treatment.

In cases where fibromyalgia has been triggered by a brain injury, it seems that the condition can be completely resolved with a course of HBOT. When the condition has another cause, HBOT can be helpful, but patients will usually require ongoing maintenance therapy.

The Clinical Trial

Patients in the Rice University study had suffered from fibromyalgia for at least two years. 12 patients left before the completion of the trial, but half of the remaining patients received 40 sessions of HBOT five days per week for two months. Each treatment was for 90 minutes at double atmospheric pressure. Half of the patients were in a crossover control group. These patients received no treatment for two months (and saw no improvement); these patients were then given HBOT and saw improvements and as with the other group, experienced significant relief.

Researchers noted that patients who were treated with HBOT were able to either reduce or discontinue pain medication. Unlike the medication, HBOT seemed to completely reverse the condition in many patients. Efrati feels that the results of this trial justify further research into HBOT for fibromyalgia patients. Unlike other treatments currently available, its goal is to treat the brain abnormalities which are sometimes the root cause of the condition and could bring relief to countless fibromyalgia patients around the world.



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