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Joint pain is one of many symptoms of fibromyalgia. Cavan Images/Getty Images
  • Researchers say the consequences of fibromyalgia go beyond muscle and joint pain.
  • They say people with the chronic condition have a higher risk of suicide, infection, and accidents.
  • Some experts say these higher risks may be caused not only by the discomfort of having fibromyalgia but also the tendency of some medical professionals to dismiss the severity of the condition.

Far more is known about the symptoms of fibromyalgia, which include body-wide pain and fatigue, than what causes it.

Now, a new study published in the journal RMD Open suggests that the consequences of fibromyalgia may go far beyond the day-to-day discomfort it causes.

People with fibromyalgia also have a higher rate of suicide, accidents, and infections than those who do not have the chronic condition, according to researchers Dr. Yulia Treister-Goltzman and Dr. Roni Peleg of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

In their research, the scientists reviewed eight previously published studies on fibromyalgia that also detailed the negative consequences of the condition.

Treister-Goltzman and Peleg wrote that the three-fold risk of suicide among people with fibromyalgia could be due to the strain of living with constant pain as well as the stress of not having their disease taken seriously.

“Studies have shown that medical staff are reluctant to accept fibromyalgia as a medical condition and they face emotional and psychological difficulties interacting with these patients and coping with their disorder,” the study noted.

“Being left crippled, in severe pain, with no energy and severe secondary cognitive dysfunction, and an average 32-½-pound weight gain secondary to metabolic changes devastates people,” Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, a fibromyalgia expert who has written numerous books on the condition, told Medical News Today.

“Then to have some physicians who are simply too lazy to take the time to read the research and learn about these conditions imply … that the person is crazy instead of sick, and then therefore cruelly being denied disability and health insurance benefits they paid for and often left homeless… Is it really a surprise that suicide rates are higher with this condition?,” he said.

Experts say the higher prevalence of accidents among people with fibromyalgia could be explained by the fatigue, lack of quality sleep, and concentration difficulties associated with the disorder.

The study authors say the 44% increased risk of infections, including pneumonia and septicemia, could be rooted in one of the main suspected causes of the disorder.

“More and more evidence supports immune system involvement and inflammation in fibromyalgia pathophysiology, which can explain the finding of increased mortality from infections,” wrote Treister-Goltzman and Peleg. “Physical comorbidity may be an additional explanation.”

However, the researchers also reported that people with fibromyalgia were also less likely to die from cancer than people who did not live with the disorder.

They noted that one reason is the greater interaction with the healthcare system by people with fibromyalgia may lead to earlier cancer detection.

The researchers said the findings should be a signal for the healthcare community to be more attentive to fibromyalgia and its possible comorbidities.

“Fibromyalgia is often called an ‘imaginary condition,’ with ongoing debates on the legitimacy and clinical usefulness of this diagnosis,” wrote Treister-Goltzman and Peleg. “Our review provides further proof that fibromyalgia patients should be taken seriously, with particular focus on screening for suicidal ideation, prevention of accidents, and prevention and treatment of infections.”

Heightened sensitivity of pain is the hallmark of fibromyalgia, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Other symptoms of the disorder include fatigue, sleep difficulties, and — less frequently — muscle and joint stiffness, tenderness to touch, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs, memory and concentration problems, sensitivity to light, noise, odors, and temperature, and digestive issues.

Past studies suggest that the disorder may be linked to pain signaling in the brain and, since fibromyalgia tends to run in families, may have origins in genetics.