Treating Somatization Disorder and Fibromyalgia with Acupuncture
In my practice I treat a lot of depression, fibromyalgia, and related pain disorders. Often when treating depression, and treating somatization disorder we will prescribe antidepressants such as the SNRIs or Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, especially if the patient is suffering from somatization disorder (symptoms of bodily pain) along with depression. The SNRIs do a very good job of treating depression and the associated pain because the SNRIs, unlike the more well know SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) not only increase serotonin levels, but also, increase norepinephrine levels in the brain. Norepinephrine is a chemical or neurotransmitter produced by the brain that blocks pain. Infact many of the psychotropic medicines used in treating depression have a mechanism of action that causes the body to stabilize its own chemistry such as the levels of norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. Sometimes patients don’t respond to the medications, may be treatment refractory, or may prefer treatment other than medication management. Acupuncture has been shown to increase the levels of the neurotransmitters in the entire central nervous system in order to treat somatization disorder and fibromyalgia.
Depression, Fibromyalgia, and Somatization Disorder Often Share Comorbid Relationships
Co-morbidity occurs when two or more illnesses accompany one another; this is a “very” common phenomena in mental health. The National Institutes of Health estimates that between 3% and 6% of all Americans suffer from fibromyalgia. The DSM-IV states that up to 2% of women and less than .2% of men suffer from somatization disorder in the US. This imbalance is typical of depression in that women seem to suffer from depression at rates two times that of men. Fibromyalgia is treated with anti-depressants more specifically the SNRIs because depression and somatization disorder are closely associated with fibromyalgia, and share the same symptoms. Many pain disorders have been associated with certain psychiatric disorders. The term somatoform is used to describe these conditions. Acupuncture has been known to increase the pain fighting endorphins and enkephlins in the body. This by the way is one of the mechanisms of pain killers in that they increase the endorphins in the body to relieve the pain. Whether it is the opiates, SNRIs or acupuncture, the goal is to increase the norepinephrine and endorphins in the body. The end result is the same among these treatments in that ultimately it is the body that increases the neurotransmitters in the system to fight the pain, not the drugs or needles. That is not to say that once these treatments are withdrawn the body naturally produces these substances on it’s own at a therapeutic level; but the body does right the wrong, so to say, with the use of these treatments.
Treatment with Medical Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia and Other Pain Disorders is Becoming Commonplace
Many medical doctors are now opening pain management centers and including medical acupuncture as one of their primary forms of therapy. Acupuncture has been effective in many cases in treating fibromyalgia and somatization disorder. Watch this short video from Dr. Russell Berg with regards to his acupuncture treatment for fibromyalgia FMS. You will be amazed with the testimonies of his patients. Acupuncture Treatment Studies for Fibromyalgia FMS (National Institutes of Health, 1997) states:
Acupuncture may activate the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, resulting in a broad spectrum of systemic effects. Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones and changes in the regulation of blood flow, both centrally and peripherally, have been documented. “There is also evidence of alterations in immune functions produced by acupuncture. Which of these and other physiological changes mediate clinical effects is at present unclear. Findings from basic research have begun to elucidate the mechanisms of action of acupuncture, including the release of opioids and other peptides in the central nervous system and the periphery and changes in neuroendocrine function”.“Many studies in animals and humans have demonstrated that acupuncture can cause multiple biological responses. These responses can occur locally, i.e., at or close to the site of application, or at a distance, mediated mainly by sensory neurons to many structures within the central nervous system. This can lead to activation of pathways affecting various physiological systems in the brain as well as in the periphery. A focus of attention has been the role of endogenous opioids in acupuncture analgesia. Considerable evidence supports the claim that opioid peptides are released during acupuncture and that the analgesic effects of acupuncture are at least partially explained by their actions. That opioid antagonists such as naloxone reverse the analgesic effects of acupuncture further strengthens this hypothesis.” Regarding stimulation by acupuncture, the NIH report also writes:
According to experts the potential benefits of acupuncture include:
- Less pain
- Cost effective
- Better sleep
- Possible immune system boost
- Better overall health
- No negative interactions with other treatments, including drugs
- Extremely mild side effects
- Low risk
The needles only penetrate about 1/3 of an inch. After insertion, the acupuncturist will gently twist them to position the needle in the acupuncture point. Usually, you might feel a mild pinch, or you might feel nothing at all. Once all the needles are in, it takes about 20 minutes or longer depending on your specific treatment plan. You’ll probably feel relaxed and sometimes patients fall asleep. Afterward, the acupuncturist will remove the needles, which shouldn’t hurt at all. Sometimes after your first treatment, you may feel some mild aches around your body or you may just feel very relaxed. It’s common to sleep more deeply than usual that night, which is a definite bonus for anyone with fibromyalgia. If you are in need of treatment for your depression and seeking an experienced Scottsdale psychiatrist, please call my office to set an appointment. There are many chiropractors in Scottsdale and Phoenix that are very good at treating these illnesses with acupuncture.