Tanning beds providing relief for fibromyalgia patients

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on January 28, 2010 at 6:40 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

Six million people in the U.S. - mainly women - can't get through the day without pain. There are very few effective treatments for fibromyalgia. One doctor has a controversial method to treat his patients.

"All I could say to my doctors is 'I feel like I've been hit by a truck,'" said Laura Hemrick.

The pain put Hemrick's body and brain in slow motion.

"I see people, and I think, 'I've known you all my life, but I don't remember your name," said Hemrick.

She was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes widespread pain, fatigue and fogginess. Exercise provides some relief, but the drugs make her sick.

"I would deal with the pain before I go back to those again," she said.

The next prescription came as a shock: spend time tanning!

"If I were to give a lecture to my dermatology colleagues about this, almost certainly some would find some tomatoes to throw at me," said Dr. Steven Feldman, Wake Forest University.

Feldman led a study that found fibromyalgia patients who were exposed to UV rays in a tanning bed over six weeks felt a decrease in pain compared to those who were in non-UV beds. He says the UV rays cause the skin to release endorphins - feel-good molecules that ease pain and increase relaxation. Other dermatologists argue that tanning beds are dangerous.

"Just once using the tanning bed will give you enough DNA damage to increase your chance of skin cancer," said Dr. Shasa Hu, dermatologist at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Hemrick says tanning is the only thing that gives her relief.

"Nothing is completely free of any possible risk," she said.

And she says to her, the risk is worth it.

Hemrick spends 12 to 15 minutes, three times a week in a tanning booth to ease the pain.  Dr. Feldman says UV tanning beds have also been helpful in easing psoriasis; however, he would not recommend them for anyone who doesn't have these conditions.
 

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