Younger People With Fibromyalgia Face More Severe Symptoms, Worse Quality Of Life

Younger people with fibromyalgia may have it worse. Bhumika Bhatia, CC BY 2.0

Younger people diagnosed with fibromyalgia reported to have worse quality of life and more severe symptoms compared to older people with the disease, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the Mayo Clinic. The findings are contrary to the commonly held belief that physical health and quality of life are negatively associated with age, lead researcher Dr. Terry Oh says. Her findings will be presented at the American College of Rheumatology annual meeting.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic musculoskeletal disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. Despite the fact that disorder affects up to 5 million people in the U.S., little is known about the fibromyalgia. There is no objective diagnostic test, no easily identified cause, and no established treatment.

Researchers surveyed 978 people diagnosed with fibromyalgia from three age groups: 39 and younger, 50-59, and 60 and older. Fibromyalgia appeared to manifest differently at different ages. While younger and middle-aged patients reported that their fibromyalgia symptoms had shorter duration, their symptoms were also more severe. They also reported a history of abuse with greater frequency.

Younger and middle-aged patients surveyed also varied in demographics. They were more likely to be employed, unmarried, and smokers. They also had higher levels of education and lower body mass index. Women diagnosed with fibromyalgia generally rated their quality of life lower than the average woman of the same age in the U.S., but the disparity is greater among younger women.

What Are Symptoms Of Fibromyalgia And Who Develops It?

Symptoms of fibromyalgia are often triggered by physical trauma, psychological stress, surgery, infection, or surgery. The onset of fibromyalgia may be sudden, or marked by a gradual increase in symptoms. The exact mechanism behind fibromyalgia is unknown, but the prevailing belief is that the disorder alters the way that pain is processed in the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Recent research found that people living with fibromyalgia have excessive sensory nerve fibers surrounding blood vessel structures near the surface of the skin, which could lead to heightened sensitivity for pain.

Approximately 80-90 percent of people suffering from fibromyalgia are women according to the National Institutes of Health, for unknown reasons. People who develop fibromyalgia often have been diagnosed with a rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Fibromyalgia sufferers commonly have a relative with the same diagnosis. While it remains unknown whether the disorder is environmental or genetic, researchers have identified some genes that are more prevalent in people with fibromyalgia.

A commonly held myth that prevents many people with fibromyalgia from getting a proper diagnosis is that the pain is “all in their head” or psychosomatic, according to Connie A. Luedtke, the nursing supervisor of the Mayo Clinic's fibromyalgia center. Since many of the symptoms overlap with other conditions, fibromyalgia is perceived to be the “garbage-can diagnosis” — the diagnosis you get when doctors cannot figure out what is wrong. 

How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?

The idea that fibromyalgia pain is all in the mind is reinforced by the fact that some of the most promising therapies for it are mind-body therapies. Eastern movement therapies such as yoga and tai chi have been shown to provide relief and improve function. Meditation is frequently recommended for people suffering from chronic pain.

Other ways of treating fibromyalgia have garnered plenty of anecdotal evidence, but little based in scientific research. Some fibromyalgia patients say that eliminating refined flour, sugar, sugar substitutes, or carbonated drinks has alleviated symptoms. Another study found that one out of eight people living with fibromyalgia self-medicate with cannabis.

The Mayo Clinic suggests simpler and more legal ways to cope with fibromyalgia pain, including avoiding negative self-talk, seeking out online support groups, and distracting yourself with friends.

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