Doctors could start using nitrous oxide to treat fibromyalgia


Can a blast of laughing gas ease chronic pain? Doctors could start using nitrous oxide to treat fibromyalgia

  • Nitrous oxide may be a new way to treat debilitating pain condition fibromyalgia
  • Up to three million in UK have condition that causes increased sensitivity to pain 
  • BBC’s Kirsty Young, 53, was so badly affected she left job at Desert Island Discs 

Laughing gas may be a new way to treat debilitating pain condition fibromyalgia.

Up to three million people in the UK have fibromyalgia, which causes widespread and increased sensitivity to pain, along with muscle stiffness, difficulty sleeping, headaches, depression and problems with memory and concentration, known as ‘fibro-fog’.

Broadcaster Kirsty Young, 53, was so badly affected that she recently admitted she left her job presenting Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2019 because of it.

Broadcaster Kirsty Young, 53, was so badly affected that she recently admitted she left her job presenting Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2019 because of it

The cause of the condition is not known, although abnormally high levels of the chemical glutamate, which alters the way the brain processes pain messages, are thought to be implicated.

In many cases, fibromyalgia appears to be triggered by a physical or stressful event, such as an infection, accident or bereavement.

Treating the condition is difficult because patients experience it differently.

Current options include painkillers and antidepressants. Now researchers believe that laughing gas — so-called because of its intoxicating effects when inhaled — could be an option.

Laughing gas may be a new way to treat debilitating pain condition fibromyalgia (File image)

Laughing gas may be a new way to treat debilitating pain condition fibromyalgia (File image)

Commonly used in dentistry for tooth extractions, it reduces pain and induces drowsiness by triggering the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins.

In the new trial researchers at the University of Chicago in the U.S., are using it as a one- off treatment to block over- production of glutamate that may amplify pain.

Could taking a magnesium pill ease fibromyalgia? 

That’s the suggestion from a study published in the journal Nutrients.

Taking the supplement for a month significantly cut pain levels and halved stress scores, according to the findings, based on around 70 patients at University Hospital Clermont-Ferrand in France.

The researchers said their findings showed for the first time that ‘taking daily magnesium could be a useful treatment’. 

Patients with fibromyalgia have been found to have higher levels of glutamate in the insula, an area of the brain that’s involved in processing pain and emotion.

Around 50 patients will inhale a mixture of laughing gas (nitrous oxide) and oxygen, or a placebo for 60 minutes with its effects on pain, anxiety, depression and mood monitored over the next few months.

The new study builds on previous research that shows laughing gas can have an effect on chronic pain.

A 2015 study, published in the journal Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria, showed that patients with chronic pain who were given it for dental treatment had a ten-fold reduction in their pain levels.

Each of the patients had experienced pain for at least six months, but only 18 out of the 77 patients in the study still had the pain after receiving treatment.

‘Our study showed remarkable reduction of chronic body pain complaints in patients after sedation with nitrous oxide/oxygen,’ said the neurologists from São Paulo University in Brazil, who carried out the research. Commenting on the latest trial, Professor Sam Eldabe, a consultant in pain medicine at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, said: ‘Fibromyalgia is a long-term painful condition with few effective treatments.

‘I look forward to the results of the study which may provide some hope for fibromyalgia sufferers.

‘Further studies may be needed to elucidate a mechanism of action for nitrous oxide, if one exists.’ 

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