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New research advances fibromyalgia diagnosis

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Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes musculoskeletal pain all over the body, together with symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety and increased sensitivity to pain. It can be hard to diagnose, but US researchers have made a breakthrough that is said to identify fibromyalgia with 93% accuracy.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder used functional MRI scans (fMRI) to study brain activity in a group of 37 fibromyalgia patients and 35 control patients as they were exposed to a variety of non-painful visual, auditory and tactile cues as well as painful pressure.

This multisensory testing allowed the researchers to identify a series of three sub-markers, or neurological patterns, that correlated with the hypersensitivity to pain that characterises fibromyalgia.

“The novelty of this study is that it provides potential neuroimaging-based tools that can be used with new patients to inform about the degree of certain neural pathology underlying their pain symptoms,” commented Marina López-Solà, a post-doctoral researcher in the university´s Cognitive and Affective Control Laboratory and lead author of the study. “The set of tools may be helpful to identify patient subtypes, which may be important for adjusting treatment selection on an individualised basis.”

The findings have been published in the journal PAIN, published by the International Association for the Study of Pain.

“The potential for brain measures like the ones we developed here is that they can tell us something about the particular brain abnormalities that drive an individual´s suffering,” explained Tor Wager, director of the Cognitive and Affective Control Laboratory. “That can help us both recognise fibromyalgia for what it is — a disorder of the central nervous system — and treat it more effectively.”