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Fibromyalgia and Obesity

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic pain syndrome with 3–5% of the population being affected. There is a greater prevalence of female sufferers from this condition.

Several associated symptoms of this condition include fatigue, mood disorders, cognitive function loss, sleep problems, headaches, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, functional disability etc.

The exact cause of this condition is still unknown but numerous factors are found to contribute to the pain that forms two thirds of all symptoms of this syndrome.

Some of the pathological factors include:-

  • an abnormal regulation of central pain modulation
  • altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis)
  • alteration of immune responses

Pain and obesity

Pain and related complaints are much more common among the obese and the overweight than others. Further there is significant disruption of the HPA axis regulation among the obese individuals.

Obesity also leads to increased levels of pro-inflammatory mediators that derange the immune system including Interlukin-6 (IL-6), C reactive protein (CRP), cortisol (stress hormone) and epinephrine.

Obesity and fibromyalgia prevalence

According to several prevalence studies, obesity is common among patients with fibromyalgia. Around 32%–50% of patients with fibromyalgia are obese and further 28% are overweight according to studies.

The rise in the body mass index (BMI) that indicates obesity is also connected to several features of fibromyalgia including poor quality of life, more sensitivity to pain and diminished physical functions.

Sleep disturbances

Another link between fibromyalgia and obesity is sleep disturbances. Both conditions are characterized by sleep problems and a non restorative sleep.

Fibromyalgia itself disrupts the sleep architecture and leads to self-reported poor quality of sleep. Poorer sleep is directly connected to more fatigue and pain in fibromyalgia.

Studies on obese individuals with fibromyalgia show that these patients tend to have shorter sleep durations, longer time spent awake before onset of sleep, low sleep efficiency and restless sleep.

Strengthening exercise programmes

Further both obesity and fibromyalgia patients benefit significantly from an aerobic program and strengthening exercise programmes. In obese fibromyalgia patients, strengthening of the muscles of the neck and back, result in reducing the pain thresholds.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 31, 2013

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