These Brain Waves May Tame Fibromyalgia
May 1, 2001 -- As many as six million Americans are living with
fibromyalgia, and in most cases they are living with the constant, unrelenting
symptoms of the condition: widespread pain in muscles and joints, sleep
disturbances, irritable bowel syndrome, and anxiety, to name a few. But very
positive results from a new study suggest that sending mini-currents of
electricity through the brain -- a procedure called cranial electrotherapy
stimulation --may provide relief from some of these symptoms.
Alan S. Lichtbroun, MD, says he learned about the
electrotherapy technique while searching for better treatments for his many
"This technique is gaining wide acceptance at chronic pain
treatment centers," says Lichtbroun, assistant professor at Robert Wood
Johnson Medical School, in East Brunswick, N.J. "At first I looked at this
device very skeptically -- and even now I am beginning to see some patients who
had a marked response at the beginning are gradually beginning to deteriorate
-- so again I wondered if the machine had lost its power. But what I've found
is that patients eventually lose their incentive to use the machine, and less
frequent use appears to mean a return of symptoms."
The machine Lichtbroun refers to is the Alpha-Stim CES device
made by Electromedical Products International Inc., of Mineral Wells, Texas.
Patients using the device clip electrodes to their earlobes, which transmit low
levels of electricity back and forth, through the head.
In the study, published in the April issue of the Journal of
Clinical Rheumatology, 20 patients were assigned to two groups, one that
got cranial electrotherapy stimulation and another that got fake devices
clipped to their ears that didn't transmit electricity. Because the electric
currents are so low they cannot be felt as they pass through the brain,
participants didn't know whether or not they received active stimulation.
Both groups were told to use the devices for an hour a day for
For therapeutic use, patients are taught how to use the devices
so that "they can undergo the treatment in their own homes, at a time that
is convenient for them," says Lichtbroun.
That's a big advantage over some other approaches, such as
massage, because it doesn't require "special appointments or a trip outside
the home," he points out.
The results of the electrotherapy treatment were "very
surprising," says Lichtbroun.
Physicians determine how severe a case of fibromyalgia is by
testing "tender points" -- areas of highly localized pain. The study
participants who had real electrotherapy treatment had a 28% improvement in
tender-point scores and a 27% improvement in the amount of general pain they
But most surprising, says Lichtbroun, was that only 5% of the
treated patients reported having sleep disturbances after treatment, compared
with 60% who had sleep problems before beginning electrotherapy treatments.