What does fMRI reveal about the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia?

Updated: Apr 23, 2020
  • Author: Chad S Boomershine, MD, PhD, CPI, CPT; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can show brain activity by depicting increased blood flow to areas actively engaged in a task. Increased blood flow and, hence, increased oxygenation have different magnetic properties. These properties can be detected and measured using fMRI.

In a study of persons performing a task requiring memory (alphabetization), persons with fibromyalgia performed almost as well as controls, but fMRI showed that more brain areas were activated during the memory task in persons with fibromyalgia than in controls, because the task was harder for the patients to perform. In another study, working memory and episodic memory scores of patients with fibromyalgia were similar to those of healthy controls who were 20 years older. [43]

Another study measured neural activation during response inhibition using fMRI. Patients with fibromyalgia had lower activation in the inhibition and attention networks but increased activation in other areas. The study indicates that inhibition and pain perception may use overlapping networks, which may cause resources to be unavailable for other processes when they are taken up by pain processing. [44]

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