Fibromyalgia is a tricky condition to diagnose and an even trickier one to treat. The painful condition that affects women more often than men isn’t even widely recognized throughout the medical community, making the hunt for treatments a slow going process. But a team of researchers point to one potential treatment as a viable option for fibromyalgia sufferers: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves sitting or lying in a controlled chamber with air pressure about 2-3 times that of a normal room. The patient is given an oxygen mask that delivers 100% pure oxygen. The whole process usually takes approximately 2 hours and is repeated for 3 to 40 session, depending on the condition it’s being used to treat.
The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society has recognized that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be effective for these conditions: (1)
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- gas gangrene
crush injury, Compartment Syndrome, and frostbite
- decompression sickness
- slow-healing wounds
- blood loss, anemia
- intracranial abscess
- necrotizing soft tissue infections
- osteomyelitis (bone infection);
- injuries from radiation cancer treatment
- thermal burns
Is hyperbaric oxygen therapy effective for fibromyalgia?
In 2015, a team of researchers at Tel-Aviv University conducted a randomized controlled clinical trial to test whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy could be used to help manage fibromyalgia (2).
2015 Study Points to Potential Treatment
They reasoned that since the therapy had previously been used to improve neuroplasticity and brain function in people who have suffered from a stroke or brain injury (3), that it might be possible to have similar benefits for patients suffering from fibromyalgia.NameEmail
They gathered 60 people between the ages of 21 and 67, all of whom had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia for at least two years. Each person suffered from widespread pain all over the body and had 11 or more tender points. After a few exclusions had to be made during the 31-month study, they were left with 48 patients (24 in a treatment group and 24 in a control group).
They found that after 2 months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, patients in the treatment group had improved markers of brain functionality and pain. In fact, several people reduced or completely eliminated their reliance on medication for chronic pain.
Promising Results for Everyone?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy offered by private clinics can be quite expensive, so governing bodies are careful not to approve their use for conditions that may not be proven to be effective. So it may be a long journey ahead before the therapy is officially approved for use for fibromyalgia.
The Tel-Aviv researchers address that in their publication, saying “Since there is currently no solution for FMS [fibromyalgia] patients, and since HBOT [hyperbaric oxygen therapy] is obviously leading to significant improvement, it seems reasonable to let FMS patients benefit from HBOT, if possible, now rather than wait until future studies are completed.” (4)
Should everyone try it? If so how?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not a suitable option for everyone. Some risks to consider are (5) :
- Chamber pressure has the ability to damage the ears, lungs, sinuses, and teeth
- The therapy can alter blood sugar levels, so diabetics should be carefully monitored
- Oxygen toxicity can result in seizures
- The therapy can cause complications with congenital heart disease
- Some people suffer from claustrophobia while in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber
- Oxygen is highly flammable and poses a serious fire threat if the oxygen tank is not operated by a licensed professional
We hope for more progress in finding solutions for managing fibromyalgia!