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Scientists have at last found one of the causes of fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes pain all over the body.
Researchers from Montreal have found a correlation between the painful disease and sufferers' gut bacteria.
The condition, that affects between two to four per cent of the population and has no known cure, causes sufferers to feel extreme tiredness, to have trouble sleeping and to experience widespread chronic pain.
The disease is difficult to diagnose, with patients waiting up to five years to get a final diagnosis. Celebrity sufferers include Lady Gaga and Morgan Freeman.
In a paper in the journal Pain, the research team showed that in sufferers of fibromyalgia, around 20 different species of bacteria were found in either greater or lesser quantities than in those who did not suffer from the disease.
Scientists tested the gut bacteria of 156 people in the Montreal area, 77 of whom suffer from fibromyalgia.
Participants were interviewed and gave stool, blood, saliva and urine samples, which were then compared with those of non-sufferers.
"We used a range of techniques, including Artificial Intelligence, to confirm that the changes we saw in the microbiomes of fibromyalgia patients were not caused by factors such as diet, medication, physical activity, age, and so on, which are known to affect the microbiome," says Dr. Amir Minerbi, from the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), who completed the study alongside researchers from McGill University and Université de Montréal and others from the Research Institute of the MUHC.
"We found that fibromyalgia and the symptoms of fibromyalgia - pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties - contribute more than any of the other factors to the variations we see in the microbiomes of those with the disease.
"We also saw that the severity of a patient's symptoms was directly correlated with an increased presence or a more pronounced absence of certain bacteria - something which has never been reported before."
Scientists are not sure yet whether the changes in gut bacteria are simply markers of the disease or whether they play a role in causing it.
However, the research could make diagnosing the disease a much easier and quicker process in the future.
The next step will be to explore whether there are similar changes in the gut microbiome in other conditions involving chronic pain, such as lower back pain, headaches and neuropathic pain.
Researchers will also investigate whether the bacteria plays a role in the development of pain and fibromyalgia, and whether the presence of bacteria could help in finding a cure, as well as speed up the process of diagnosis.
For more information on fibromyalgia, visit fmauk.org.
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