Health Beat: Pain syndrome diagnosis and cure

Health Beat: Pain syndrome diagnosis and cure

BOSTON - Many patients who experience chronic pain throughout their body are told it's all in their head, but new research has revealed a possible cause and cure.

Laura Waslo is passionate about the guitar, but in 2009, chronic widespread pain prevented her from playing. 

"It was a burning pain in my legs and then also my feet, which were getting red and swollen all the time," said Laura Waslo.

Several doctors told Waslo it was nerve damage from her diabetes, but no one could make the pain go away. That is until she met Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander, who diagnosed Waslo with autoimmune neuropathy.

"This is a particular type of widespread nerve damage that is different from the diabetic neuropathy," said Oaklander, associate professor of neurology and assistant in pathology (neuropathology), Massachusetts General Hospital.

Although autoimmune neuropathy has been diagnosed in adults, Oaklander's study of 41 patients found it also occurs in those under 21.

"Since no one knew what the cause of their pain and other symptoms were, there were no effective treatments," Oaklander said.

In addition to chronic pain, Waslo experienced insomnia, blood pressure swings, and sometimes passed out when she stood up.

Through skin biopsies and heart and blood pressure tests, doctors discovered neuropathy in younger patients.

"We were seeing abnormal skin biopsy test results or abnormal autonomic function test results. These are things that previously had not been described in young patients," said Dr. Max Klein, instructor in neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital.

Waslo's pain level dropped with steroid treatment followed by transfusion therapy.

"I feel great now. My symptoms pretty much disappeared," Waslo explained.

Other symptoms of autoimmune neuropathy include numbness, tingling, and decreased reflexes. Some patients said their widespread chronic pain was brought on by an earlier illness, infection or injury.

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