Chronic pain disorder written off by doctors as ‘imaginary’ drives thousands to suicide, study warns
A chronic condition that causes widespread pain in millions of patients may be associated with an increased risk of death, a new review suggests.
A meta-analysis suggested that people with fibromyalgia had a 27 percent increased risk of death.
In particular, they pointed to a higher risk of accidents, infections and suicide.
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel concluded that these risks “may pose a serious public health concern given the high prevalence of the condition.”
“Fibromyalgia is often referred to as an ‘imaginary condition,’ with ongoing debate about the legitimacy and clinical utility of this diagnosis,” the team wrote.
A review published Monday in the journal RMD Open suggested that patients with fibromyalgia had a 27 percent greater risk of dying from accidents, infections and suicides than the general population.
Lady Gaga, 37, revealed in 2017 that she has fibromyalgia. The condition is categorized by widespread pain, muscle and joint stiffness, tenderness, numbness and tingling, memory problems, increased sensitivity to light and sound, and digestive problems, such as bloating and constipation
“Our review provides further evidence that fibromyalgia patients should be taken seriously, with particular focus on suicidal ideation screening, accident prevention, and infection prevention and treatment.”
Fibromyalgia affects four million adults in the US, about two percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
About one in 20 Britons, or 5.5 per cent of adults, have the condition, the NHS estimates.
Women are twice as likely to have fibromyalgia as men. The condition can also run in families.
The review found that fibromyalgia patients were 44 percent more likely to have infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, and three times more likely to commit suicide.
There was a five percent greater risk of accidents, including car crashes and injuries.
“The finding of increased accident-related mortality may stem from fatigue, unrefreshing sleep, and difficulty concentrating associated with fibromyalgia,” the researchers wrote.
However, the risk of cancer was 12 percent lower than in the general population. The researchers said this could be due to the fact that fibromyalgia patients regularly undergo extensive tests, which could make it easier to catch cancer earlier.
The review analyzed the results of eight studies conducted between 1999 and 2020.
These studies involved more than 188,000 adults, all of whom were also clinically diagnosed with other health conditions.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body. People with the disorder are also more sensitive to pain.
The pain can be anywhere from the arms and legs to the head, chest and abdomen.
Other symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), include muscle and joint stiffness, tenderness, numbness and tingling, memory problems, increased sensitivity to light and sound, and digestive problems, such as bloating and constipation.
It can start at any age, even during childhood, although it’s most commonly diagnosed in middle age, according to the NIH.
People with fibromyalgia are also more likely to have conditions such as arthritis, lupus, and irritable bowel syndrome.
In addition, patients are at greater risk for depression and anxiety.
“Studies have shown that medical staff are reluctant to accept fibromyalgia as a medical condition, and they experience emotional and psychological difficulties in interacting with these patients and managing their condition,” the researchers said.
This could be responsible for the increased risk of death by suicide.
Pop singer Lady Gaga made headlines in 2017 after speaking out about her battle with fibromyalgia in the documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two.
“In our documentary the #chronicillness #chronicpain I deal w/ is #Fibromyalgia, I want to help raise awareness and connect people who have it,” the singer, now 37, wrote on Twitter at the time.
While it’s unclear what exactly causes fibromyalgia, the researchers said it’s on the rise.
They called for more suicidal ideation screening, accident prevention, and infection prevention and treatment in fibromyalgia patients.
The review was published Monday in the magazine RMD open.