Erika Farber came down with CFIDS when she was thirteen, four years ago. She was absent about a third of the time from school, slept fourteen hours a day, and could not sit through a whole meal without becoming exhausted. Last July, she began a new treatment using a hyperbaric chamber, and, although she is not 100% cured, she feels better about 80% of the time.
Treating CFIDS with a hyperbaric chamber has received mixed reviews. Although no patients have had a complete recovery, many feel 60 to 90% better. Some have felt no change, and a few have actually gotten worse.
A hyperbaric chamber is a steel tank which compresses the pressure to 2.5 atmospheres, which is the same pressure one would feel at 45 feet under the ocean. A person is submersed in pure oxygen in the chamber. One can either immerse the whole body, or only the head. Studies on effects of this treatment of people with CFIDS are underway.
At Texas A&M University, Donald M. Freeman, M.D., and William Fife, Ph.D., have been researching the use of hyperbaric chamber for about five years. Over 2000 people have tried the chamber for medical problems, of which 40 are CFIDS patients.
Dr. Fife believes that the pure oxygen alters the immune system. Most CFIDS patients he has treated go into the chamber for one hour, five days a week for one hour, for at least two weeks. He has observed that most patients do not notice an improvement until the second week.
Drs. Freeman and Fife are currently conducting a blind study to research the effects of the treatment on CFIDS. “We’re not taking anyone unless they are willing to participate in the blind study,” commented Fife. “We haven’t had a 100% cure, but most CFIDS patients have had improvement,” he added.
Mr. George Farber, Erika’s father, stated they were very happy with the results from the Texas A&M study. “This year, Erika ran cross country, track and field, was a cheerleader, and got a 4.0 GPA in school,” he said. “We’re taking her down again for another session before she starts college next fall.” Currently, she is only taking nutritional supplements and is not on any medication.
The blind study is carefully controlled and is monitored by the Texas A&M institution review board. There is no cost to participate in the study, although the number of patients tested is limited.
Other doctors have attempted to utilize hyperbaric chamber therapy with less success. Dr. Jay Goldstein, M.D., a prominent Californian physician who specializes in CFIDS, has sent several patients for treatment.
“The results have been poor. Some people feel better for a few days, but there is nothing that is curing people. I actually had one patient who got much worse after one treatment, and I told her to stop doing it,” stated Goldstein.
Dr. Goldstein believes that the lack of success may be due to the sample of patients he used. He recommended use of the hyperbaric chamber to patients who were not responding well to other treatments. Dr. Goldstein has stopped recommending it to all of his patients because he believes that it does not work.
For now, treating CFS with a hyperbaric chamber remains a treatment with mixed results.