Therapy for Fibromyalgia: Neurocognitive Feedback
October 10, 2005
By: Ivanhoe Newswire
Fibromyalgia is a frustrating condition both for doctors and patients. The disease is not only difficult to diagnose and but also to treat. A new therapy is trying to stop the frustration by helping patients regain some function by targeting their brains.
It was the simple tasks, such as balancing a checkbook that confused Melissa Noll the most. "I thought I might have early stages of Alzheimer's," Noll says. But her memory problems were a symptom of something else, fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes pain and fatigue. "I've lived in this area 15 years, and I couldn't find my way to the bank."
Neurocognitive biofeedback is the new therapy that helped Noll find her way. Dr. Myra Preston a Neurophysiologist at Siber Imaging in Charlotte, N.C., uses the therapy on patients with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
"What we found was rather fascinating. In fact, we discovered that it's as if their brains are functioning in reverse," Dr. Preston says.
Neurocognitive biofeedback corrects the brain's electrical functions by altering brainwaves. Patients are hooked up to electrodes that actually monitor the brainwaves. When they concentrate and focus, the waves function normally, and video game-like displays deliver "rewards" in the form of sight and sound.
"We truly are rewarding the brain," Dr. Preston says. It's a promising treatment. In one study, patients had more than a 60-percent improvement in memory.
"When we begin correcting the function of the brain, we begin to have an effect over all of the body systems." She also developed a technique called brain mapping to determine which patients are candidates for neurocognitive biofeedback.
With a little help from her brain, neurocognitive biofeedback helped diagnose and treat Noll's condition.
Dr. Preston says neurocognitive biofeedback is also being used for patients with other conditions like ADHD, autism, stroke and Alzheimer's disease. Treatment is sometimes covered by insurance. Without it, the therapy is about $140 for an hour session. Most patients have between 30 and 40 sessions.
FIBROMYALGIA: According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia affects between 3 million and 6 million Americans, or one in every 50 Americans. While the disease can affect men and children, primarily 80 percent to 90 percent of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain, fatigue and multiple tender points. Tender points are precise places on the body, such as on the neck, shoulders, back, hips and upper and lower extremities, where people with fibromyalgia feel pain in response to light pressure.
While fibromyalgia sounds similar to an arthritis-related condition, it is not deemed to be a form of arthritis because it does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints, muscles or other tissues.
Fibromyalgia is referred to as a syndrome rather than a disease because unlike a disease that has specific a specific cause or causes and identifiable signs and symptoms, fibromyalgia is a compilation of signs and symptoms that occur together but does not have a specific or identifiable cause. Patients with fibromyalgia may experience: sleep disturbances, stiffness in the morning, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, uncomfortable menstrual periods, a feeling of numbness or tingling in the extremities, a sensitivity to temperature, and memory problems.
BRAINWAVES: Electric activity emanating from the brain is displayed in the form of brainwaves. According to Myra Preston, Ph.D., a neurophysiologist at Siber Imaging, the faster the electrical signals are, the more effective and efficient the brain is. However, the slower the electrical signals, the less useful the electrical activity is. This makes the body prone to more problems such as memory loss, cognitive dysfunction, gastrointestinal distress and sensitivity to pain.
NEUROCOGNITIVE FEEDBACK THERAPY: While it is not a cure, neurocognitive feedback therapy is an alternative to medications for treating fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Preston says, "When you correct the electrical activity in the brain, you influence the blood flow and the neurochemistry in the brain, and the changes become permanent and continue spontaneously over time without further treatment." She says that by correcting the function of the brain, you can affect all of the body systems. She adds, "We need to look to the brain instead of the body to treat some of these mysterious illnesses."
HOW IT WORKS: Neurocognitive feedback is a form of operative conditioning that corrects the electrical functions of the brain by having it work to earn "rewards." In order to retrain the brain, doctors place electrodes on the brain of the patient, and a computer records the electrical activity of the brainwaves.
Patients concentrate and work toward earning rewards in the form of sight and sound on a video game or graphic display on the computer screen. The brain is trained to work to receive the positive response. Dr. Preston says, "Causing it to happen over and over and over, we build upon that, just like rehabilitating a weak muscle. And, over time, the neurons begin to communicate correctly." Each session is designed to continually change the chemistry of the brain.
UNDER STUDY: In a study published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, patients undergoing neurofeedback had more than a 60-percent improvement in memory.
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