The majority of women with fibromyalgia who underwent hyperbaric oxygen therapy — best known for treating “the bends” in scuba divers — experienced relief from pain and other symptoms, a small study found.

Brain scans of the patients showed that two months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy may have also repaired abnormal brain activity in pain-related areas of the brain, the researchers said.

“Seventy percent of the patients could not be categorized as suffering from fibromyalgia at the end of the treatment,” said study author Dr. Shai Efrati, director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“The good correspondence between the physiological improvements and the changes in brain functionality … make the results particularly convincing,” Efrati added.

The new study included 48 women who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia at least two years earlier. Half underwent 40 hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments over two months. The treatments were given five times a week. They lasted 90 minutes each session. During the treatment, patients breathed 100 percent oxygen pressurized to twice the normal air pressure. The therapy is thought to increase oxygen flow to body tissues, improving healing.After a two-month delay, the other 24 women in the study were then exposed to the same hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment as the first group, after which they experienced similar symptom relief and brain scan changes, Efrati said.

Patients were able to significantly reduce or even eliminate their use of pain medications, he said.

One U.S. expert not involved with the study said the new finding has potential. “I think this could give patients another option to help manage their pain from fibromyalgia,” said Dr. Michelle Dang, a pain management specialist and anesthesiologist at Houston Methodist Hospital.

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