Fibromyalgia Treatment Raises Eyebrows

From the WebMD Archives

April 19, 2002 -- It's got a hokey name -- electroceutical therapy. It uses a machine that looks like something from a low-budget science-fiction movie. Can it really cure fibromyalgia?

Anesthesiologist James Fugedy, MD, uses a device called the PRO GeneSys System Electroceutical Treatment. It's used by some pain doctors to help relieve sore muscles. Long wires lead from the device to suction-cup electrodes that are placed on various parts of the body.

Fugedy, director of the Procare Medical Group in Marietta, Ga., says he's figured out how to use it to give patients long-lasting relief from the pain of fibromyalgia.

"Four out of five patients get a terrific response," Fugedy tells WebMD. "The nice thing about the treatment is you know quickly whether it is working or not. The ones who respond are thrilled. They are increasing their activity -- you can just see them brighten up."

Fibromyalgia experts are highly skeptical of Fugedy's approach.

"There is no evidence that slapping these little doodads over your body works," rheumatologist Terence W. Starz, MD, tells WebMD. "Be careful of testimonials and treatments that say they can treat all kinds of different musculoskeletal problems. You need to see real evidence."

Starz, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, treats many fibromyalgia patients. So does Leslie J. Crofford, MD, rheumatologist and pain physiologist at the University of Michigan. Crofford has researched a number of alternative treatments for fibromyalgia.

"In the world of pain medicine this [electroceutical device] isn't something people are talking about," Crofford tells WebMD. "It's not that I'm not open to alternative treatments. I don't believe pills work very well for this. But I am not sympathetic to people who make claims about treatments that haven't been tested in placebo-controlled clinical trials."

Fibromyalgia is not, as some once thought, a mental illness. It is a chronic illness -- and its main symptom is pain spread all over the body. Other classic symptoms are unrefreshing sleep, disturbed mood, and constantly feeling tired.

It's not easy to treat. Most doctors use a combination approach. Both Starz and Crofford tailor their treatments to individual patients.

"I ask patients to change their sleep and exercise behaviors," Crofford says. "If there is a behavioral component I ask that they undergo cognitive behavioral treatment. I usually start them out with [one or more types of] antidepressants."

Fugedy says that nearly all of his patients have already seen other experts -- and that they are not satisfied with the treatment they received.

"Every patient who comes in is skeptical," he says. "Usually our patients don't want to admit at first that they are starting to feel better. But it is really satisfying to see them keep improving and being really surprised that they are getting better."