Who is Fibromyalgia?

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A large, Internet-based survey was conducted by Bennett et al. in 2005 in an effort to better understand the demographics of fibromyalgia, individual symptoms and level of functioning, aggravating factors, triggers, health care utilization, strategies for management, and medication use. The survey utilized a detailed questionnaire developed in conjunction with the National Fibromyalgia Association and a multidisciplinary task force of experts in fibromyalgia. The questionnaire contained 121 items divided among 5 sections: 1) background information; 2) symptoms; 3) physical ability impact; 4) employment impact; and 5) nature and effectiveness of interventions.

The survey was posted on the website of the National Fibromyalgia Association in October of 2005 and received 2,569 satisfactory responses within three days. In keeping with published research findings, a majority of the respondents were female (96.8%), middle-aged (average age was 47 years), and moderately overweight, with 70% having a BMI greater than 25. BMI, or body mass index, is an indicator of body composition. BMI values between 25 and 29 are considered to represent overweight. Fifty percent of respondents had average household incomes between $20,000 and $80,000.

 The table below provides a summary of various other key demographic findings from this survey:

 

Demographic characteristics Frequency in surveyed population
Race and EthnicityCaucasianAfro-AmericanAsianHispanic 91.5%2.3%0.4%2.6%
Duration of symptomsLess than 7 months7-12 months1-2 years

2-4 years

>4 years

0.6%1.5%3.9%

13.1%

75.5%

Marital statusCurrently marriedNever marriedDivorced

Widowed

64.2%11.2%17.4%

2.5%

Number of childrenNoneOneTwo

Three or more

26.5%16.5%30.5%

20.9%

 

Researchers found that the demographic profile of those completing this online questionnaire was quite similar to the demographics of other fibromyalgia patients studied and published in the scientific literature, therefore the researchers felt confident that the 2,569 respondents were a representative sample of the general fibromyalgia population.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms reported by respondents included the following: low back pain (63% frequency); recurrent headaches (47%); arthritis, muscle spasm, and tingling (all at 46%); balance problems (45%); irritable bowel syndrome, numbness (both at 44%); chronic fatigue, bloating, and depression (all at 40%); and anxiety (38%), among various other complaints. In terms of symptom intensity, the highest rated symptoms were morning stiffness, fatigue, non-restorative sleep, and pain, along with many of the symptoms commonly associated with “fibro fog,” including forgetfulness, concentration, and difficulty falling asleep.

 Exacerbating factors and triggers

Factors perceived to worsen these symptoms included emotional distress (83% frequency), weather changes (80%), sleeping problems (79%), strenuous activity (70%), mental stress (68%), worrying (60%), car travel (57%), family conflicts (52%), and physical injuries and physical inactivity (both at 50%), among others. The trigger most frequently cited as leading to the onset of fibromyalgia was chronic stress (41.9%), followed by emotional trauma (31.3%), acute illness (26.7%), physical injury (non-motor vehicle related; 17.1%), and surgery and motor vehicle accident (both at 16.1%). Just over 20% of respondents stated that they could not identify any particular triggering event for the onset of their fibromyalgia.

 Interventions

When asked to indicate which interventions each respondent had tried in an effort to treat the symptoms associated with their fibromyalgia, the following responses were the most common: resting (86% frequency), distraction (80%), warm water and/or hot packs (74%), nutritional supplements (68%), over the counter pain medications (67%), and prescription pain medications (66%), gentle walking (64%), prescription antidepressants (63%), stretching (62%), and prayer (57%), among others.

 Medications

With regard to specific medications, at the time of the survey, the following medications were being used most commonly on a continual basis:

 

Drug

% continuing use

% considered helpful

Hydrocodone preparations

41%

75%

Ibuprofen

41%

51%

Clonazepam

40%

61%

Acetaminophen

37%

36%

Gabapentin

36%

46%

Trazodone

36%

51%

Zolpidem

34%

64%

Aprozolam

30%

70%

Cyclobenzaprine

30%

58%

Bupropion

29%

41%

 

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References

1.      Bennett RM, Jones J, Turk DC, Russell IJ, Matallana L. An internet survey of 2,596 people with fibromyalgia. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2007;8:27.

 

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