June 27, 2002 -- For anyone with fibromyalgia, effective treatment is elusive and the quest is frustrating. Research has shown that the illness may be due to low levels of growth hormone. And now, new research shows that growth hormone injections can relieve the pain and stiffness that comes with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes pain all over the body with muscle and joint stiffness. If affects mostly women and is diagnosed by identifying specific tender points on the body. These areas are particularly tender to touch -- even to light touch.
Although the definite cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, one theory is that it may be caused by below-normal levels of growth hormone. Growth hormone deficiency has been associated with low energy, muscle weakness, sensitivity to cold, weakened ability to remember and think, and other problems -- many of which are seen in people with fibromyalgia.
This illness definitely has a hormone component, Alfonso Leal-Cerro, MD, tells WebMD. Leal-Cerro presented new findings at the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society. He is a professor of endocrinology at the Hospital Universitario Virgen del Rocio in Seville, Spain.
"We had previously found that a high number of patients with fibromyalgia have low levels of insulin-like growth factor 1," he says. Growth hormone increases the level of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the body.
So Leal-Cerro and colleagues set out to see if giving growth hormone could help people suffering from fibromyalgia. Giving growth hormone should increase the levels of IGF-1.
Pharmacia donated the growth hormone that was used in the study, and one of the co-authors, Angels Ulied, is a staff researcher at Pharmacia in Barcelona, Spain.
In this small study, he and colleagues followed 20 women with both fibromyalgia and low levels of IGF-1. Each woman received injections of either growth hormone or placebo. For six months, neither the women nor the researchers knew whether the women were receiving growth hormone or the placebo.
Then, for the next 12 months, all the women were knowingly treated with growth hormone.
After six months of treatment, the women that received the growth hormone injections had significantly less morning stiffness and pain and fewer tender points than at the beginning of treatment. The women continued to see these benefits at 12 months.
The placebo group had significantly less morning stiffness and fewer tender points but had no significant reduction in pain.
Leal-Cerro said that he and colleagues are next planning to study treating fibromyalgia with an oral drug that increases production of growth hormone.
"Fibromyalgia is a frustrating disease for people who live with it, and they are desperate for effective treatment," Clifford J. Rosen, MD, tells WebMD. He was not involved in the study.
"The people in the study were probably quite disabled with their disease, because their IGF-1 levels were quite low, and there is a body of literature that shows IGF-1 levels are lower in fibromyalgia than in the general population. This deficiency may contribute to the stiffness in fibromyalgia," says Rosen, staff endocrinologist at the University of Maine and St. Joseph's Hospital in Bangor, Maine.
Rosen is the president-elect of the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research, and his research has focused on growth hormone, IGF-1, and the relation of these substances to bone growth. "However, I think it's too early to know if this is a feasible approach."