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Fibromyalgia and Life Events

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic and long term condition. It is an incurable condition with a myriad of symptoms including widespread pain, fatigue, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, inability to get refreshing sleep, waking up tired and stiff and developing cognitive disturbances including lack of concentration and clumsiness, dizziness etc.

There is in addition extreme sensitivity to pain. The condition affects muscles, tendons and ligaments. The condition is termed as a syndrome because it is a collection of symptoms rather than a specific symptom alone. About 10 million people are currently diagnosed with this disorder. Although 9 out of 10 people diagnosed are women, men also get this disorder.

Patients tend to be sensitive to changes in the weather, to bright lights, noise etc. These symptoms have varying course of severity and come and go over time.

There are periods of flare-ups followed by periods where symptoms are minimal. However, it is unlikely that they will ever permanently disappear altogether. Fibromyalgia is not life-threatening and does not reduce life expectancy.

Because of the symptoms and debility, fibromyalgia affects life events. There is severe physical or psychosocial stress. Stress itself is a triggering factor for fibromyalgia and is known to cause and trigger flare ups. Stress is defined as a threat or a perception of threat to the organisms’ normal balance or homeostasis.

Stressors of life events

Life events like exams, moving house, familial and financial difficulties, layoffs (redundancies), divorce etc. are known to cause and aggravate stress.

When fibromyalgia patients are exposed to an increased load on their mental state or are emotionally burdened, they are exposed to stress.

In addition these patients lose their previous physical and mental energy and are plagued with a generalized and widespread pain.

When fibromyalgia is precipitated by posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in certain individuals, the role of anxiety and life stressors becomes even more important and clear. Some studies have explored traumatic experiences during childhood and childhood sexual abuse as a causative factor in fibromyalgia.

A study showed that 48% of patients suffering from fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue syndrome had a history of emotional neglect or abuse and nearly a quarter (23%) reported physical abuse.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 31, 2013

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