UVA studies mild electrical stimulation
1:38 pm
Tue April 30, 2013

Help for Fibromyalgia

(l-r) Nursing Professor Joel Anderson, Ph.D, Nursing Student Bridget Houlahan, and Nursing Professor Ann Gill Taylor.
Credit Dan Addison via UVA

Nearly six million Americans – most of them women -- suffer from a mysterious condition called Fibromyalgia. 

It causes widespread pain, and there is no cure, but researchers at the University of Virginia report low-level electrical stimulation can cause changes in the brain – and for many study subjects bring relief.

Nursing professor Ann Gill Taylor heads UVA’s Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and says patients with fibromyalgia report a range of symptoms. “Fatigue, sleep disturbances, sort of a cognitive fog and a very poor quality of life.”

Now, there's a treatment option that appears to change brain function and reduce symptoms.

“The device is about the size of an iPhone, and you have two little clips that attach to your ears and look very similar to ear buds, and so it delivers a small electrical current that’s below the level of sensation, and participants used it for 60 minutes a day every day for eight weeks," said Assistant Professor Joel Anderson, who worked with Taylor on the study of  myocranial electrical stimulation.  

Fifty-six patients were randomly assigned to their usual treatment, a dummy device or one that provided mild electrical stimulation.  Their brains were scanned before and after the study, using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Those who got stimulation had changes in three parts of the brain associated with pain, and they reported feeling better.

Sandy Hausman reports it’s not clear whether changes are permanent, but the device -- called Alpha Stim -- is already FDA approved and available for home use.