Fibromyalgia is one of the commonest chronic musculoskeletal pain disorders. It is defined by the American College of Rheumatology as widespread pain for over 3 months duration and pain on palpation over at least 11 of 18 tender point sites throughout the body.
Apart from pain and tenderness, the condition is also characterized by other symptoms such as sleep problems, fatigue, depression, anxiety, memory and concentration loss, headaches etc.
These symptoms taken together may affect a person’s daily living activities to a significant extent. It thus affects the quality of life in significant negative terms.
Fibromyalgia is more common among women with a seven to nine times higher prevalence. The prevalence in women is 3.4% compared with 0.5% in men.
Furthermore the prevalence of FM rises steadily with age from <1% in women aged 18 to 30 years to almost 8% in women aged 55 to 64 years.
Negative association between fibromyalgia and sexual functions
There have been several studies that have shown a negative association between sexual functions in women with fibromyalgia compared to those who do not have this condition.
Understanding this association is of importance for the development of prevention and treatment strategies both for sexual dysfunction and fibromyalgia.
Hypotheses connecting sexual dysfunction and fibromyalgia in women
One of the hypotheses connecting sexual dysfunction and fibromyalgia in women is that the disease process affects the psychological but not the physiological aspect of the sexual response cycle.
This means that the woman may be physiologically normal interns of sexual response but her psyche and psychological response to sexual activity may be altered.
Another hypothesis suggests that fibromyalgia is directly associated with sexual dysfunction and depression. It suggests that both depression and sexual dysfunction are merely more commonly associated with fibromyalgia.
Depression, anxiety and sexual function
Depression and anxiety have been thought to be factors responsible for poor sexual functioning in people with chronic pain.
In a recent study sexual function was assessed by Changes in Sexual Functioning Questionnaire comparing healthy women with those who have fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
Both fibromyalgia and rheumatoid patients show a significantly higher rate of sexual dysfunction compared to healthy women but sexual dysfunction was more frequent among fibromyalgia patients at 97% compared to 84% among rheumatoid arthritis patients. Depression level was found to be the connecting factor.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)