• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Tanning beds offer relief from fibromyalgia?

March 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fibromyalgia is chronic pain syndrome that baffles both doctor and patient. It can include muscle aches, forgetfulness and extreme skin sensitivity. While millions of people have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, few say they've found sufficient relief from the pain. But now a controversial treatment option involving tanning beds is provoking some debate.A constant, aching pain put Laura 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.

After more than 15 tests and six months of doctors appointments, she found out she had fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes widespread pain, fatigue and fogginess. Exercise provides some relief, but the drugs made her sick.

"I will deal with the pain before I go back to those again," said Hemrick.

Then, a dermatologist recommended something new: 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 dermatologist Dr Steven Feldman.

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 say young people who use tanning beds have a 75 percent higher risk for melanoma.

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

Hemrick says so far tanning is the only thing that provides relief.

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

She's taking the risk because she says the alternative is to live in pain.

Last week a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel strongly urged the government to ban minors from tanning beds due to concerns over skin cancer. At that point, teenagers will need a doctor's consent to use a tanning bed.

Feldman says indoor tanning can been helpful in treating psoriasis and depression. But experts don't recommend tanning beds for anyone without these conditions.