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The Pain from Fibromyalgia Is Real, Researchers Say

Many people with fibromyalgia – a debilitating pain syndrome that affects 2 to 4 percent of the population – have faced the question of whether the condition is real.//

Fibromyalgia often has been misdiagnosed as arthritis or even a psychological issue. Increasingly, though, the scientific knowledge about fibromyalgia is growing, and a new paper from the University of Michigan Health System says there are “overwhelming data” that the condition is real, is characterized by a lower pain threshold and is associated with genetic factors that can make some people more likely to develop fibromyalgia.

The review paper, in the December issue of the journal Current Pain and Headache Reports, cites recent studies involving pain, genetics, brain activity and more. The paper's authors hope these findings will lead to a better understanding and acceptance of fibromyalgia and related conditions.

“It is time for us to move past the rhetoric about whether these conditions are real, and take these patients seriously as we endeavor to learn more about the causes and most effective treatments for these disorders,” says Richard E. Harris, Ph.D., research investigator in the Division of Rheumatology at the U-M Medical School's Department of Internal Medicine and a researcher at the U-M Health System's Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center.

A growing amount of research related to the neurobiology of this condition supports the notion that the pain of fibromyalgia is real. Studies at U-M and elsewhere using two neuroimaging techniques – functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) – indicate there is a difference between patients with and without fibromyalgia.

“In people without pain, these structures encode pain sensations normally. In people with fibromyalgia, the neural activity increased,” says Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., director of the U-M Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research
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