Health & Lifestyle

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 linked to 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 highlighted a greater likelihood of accidents, infections, and suicide.

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel concluded that these risks ‘could represent a serious public health problem, given the high prevalence of the condition.’

‘Fibromyalgia is often called an “imaginary condition,” with ongoing debates on the legitimacy and clinical usefulness 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

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, announced in 2017 that she has fibromyalgia. The condition is categorized by widespread pain, muscle and joint stiffness, tenderness, numbness and tingling, memory issues, heightened sensitivity to light and noise, and digestive problems, such as bloating and constipation

Lady Gaga, 37, announced in 2017 that she has fibromyalgia. The condition is categorized by widespread pain, muscle and joint stiffness, tenderness, numbness and tingling, memory issues, heightened sensitivity to light and noise, and digestive problems, such as bloating and constipation

‘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.’

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 percent 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 indicated fibromyalgia patients were 44 percent more likely to suffer infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, and three times more likely to commit suicide. 

There was a five percent greater risk of accidents, which could include car crashes and injuries. 

‘The finding of increased mortality associated with accidents can stem from fatigue, unrefreshing sleep, and the concentration difficulties that accompany fibromyalgia,’ the researchers wrote.

However, the risk of cancer was 12 percent lower than the general population. The researchers said this could be due to fibromyalgia patients regularly undergoing extensive testing, 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 clinically diagnosed with other health conditions as well. 

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness throughout the entire body. People with the disorder also are more sensitive to pain. 

The pain can be anywhere from the arms and legs to head, chest, and abdomen. 

Other symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), include muscle and joint stiffness, tenderness, numbness and tingling, memory issues, heightened sensitivity to light and noise, and digestive problems, such as bloating and constipation. 

It can start at any age, even during childhood, though it is most commonly diagnosed in middle age, according to the NIH.

People with fibromyalgia are also more likely to have conditions like arthritis, lupus, and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Additionally, patients are at a greater risk of depression and anxiety. 

‘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 researchers said. 

This could be responsible for the increased likelihood of suicide death. 

Pop singer Lady Gaga made headlines in 2017 after opening up about her fight with fibromyalgia in the documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. 

‘In our documentary the #chronicillness #chronicpain I deal w/ is #Fibromyalgia I wish to help raise awareness & 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 that it’s on the rise. 

They called for increased screening for suicidal ideation, accident prevention, and prevention and treatment of infections in fibromyalgia patients. 

The review was published Monday in the journal RMD Open.  

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