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Fibromyalgia Linked to Poor Sleep in Women

December 3, 2012
by Tina Samuels
Photo by: Michal Koralewski

Fibromyalgia affects over 5 million people in the U.S., 90% of them women. Poor sleeping habits are associated with the chronic pain condition.

Women who have trouble sleeping are at greater risk of developing fibromyalgia, according to a recent study by researchers in Norway. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition marked by fatigue, tightness and other muscular problems.

The study, which appeared in the Arthritis & Rheumatism journal, found that the risk of fibromyalgia increased with the severity of insomnia and other sleep problems. Researchers followed 12,350 healthy women for ten years. At the start of the study, none of the women had symptoms of fibromyalgia or musculoskeletal pain disorders. By the end of the decade, 327 women (2.6%) had fibromyalgia. The association was stronger for women over the age of 45 than with younger women.

Medical researchers have known that women with chronic pain and fibromyalgia have trouble sleeping. What’s not clear is if there’s a cause and effect relationship between the two symptoms.

“We found a dose-response relation, where women who often reported sleep problems had a greater risk of fibromyalgia than those who never experienced sleep problems,” said Dr. Paul Mork of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Fibromyalgia affects 5 million people in the United States. 90 percent of those with the condition are women. Symptoms include a dull constant ache in all parts of the body. There are tender points, or painful spots on the body when pressure is applied. In 14 tender point areas, having pain in 11 of them can lead to a diagnosis by a rheumatologist. These tender points are located on the back of the head, the upper chest, top of shoulders and between the shoulders blades, the front of the neck, the outer elbow area, the side and upper part of the hips, and the inner knees. Chronic pain is a leading symptom.

Fibromyalgia can also be in a coexistent relationship with other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, depression, endometriosis, fatigue, depression, and temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ.

Medication and stretching exercises are the main forms of treatment for fibromyalgia. Common drugs used for fibromyalgia include analgesics like Tylenol, antidepressants like Cymbalta and anti-seizure drugs like Neurontin. These help ease pain and stiffness, provide some relief from the fatigue, and can help with some of the sleep difficulties.

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