Non-Invasive Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation for the Treatment of Fibromyalgia Symptoms: A Study Protocol
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DepartmentAnatomía Patológica, Biología Celular, Histología, Historia de la Ciencia, Medicina Legal y Forense y Toxicología
SourceBrain Sciences, Vol. 12, Núm. 1
Stimulation of the vagus nerve, a parasympathetic nerve that controls the neuro-digestive, vascular, and immune systems, induces pain relief, particularly in clinical conditions such as headache and rheumatoid arthritis. Transmission through vagal afferents towards the nucleus of the solitary tract (NST), the central relay nucleus of the vagus nerve, has been proposed as the main physiological mechanism that reduces pain intensity after vagal stimulation. Chronic pain symptoms of fibromyalgia patients might benefit from stimulation of the vagus nerve via normalization of altered autonomic and immune systems causing their respective symptoms. However, multi-session non-invasive vagal stimulation effects on fibromyalgia have not been evaluated in randomized clinical trials. We propose a parallel group, sham-controlled, randomized study to modulate the sympathetic-vagal balance and pain intensity in fibromyalgia patients by application of non-invasive transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) over the vagal auricular and cervical branches. We will recruit 136 fibromyalgia patients with chronic moderate to high pain intensity. The primary outcome measure will be pain intensity, and secondary measures will be fatigue, health-related quality of life, sleep disorders, and depression. Heart rate variability and pro-inflammatory cytokine levels will be obtained as secondary physiological measures. We hypothesize that multiple tVNS sessions (five per week, for 4 weeks) will reduce pain intensity and improve quality of life as a result of normalization of the vagal control of nociception and immune-autonomic functions. Since both vagal branches project to the NST, we do not predict significantly different results between the two stimulation protocols.