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Poor sleep may put women at risk for fibromyalgia

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Sleep problems and fibromyalgia linked

Poor quality sleep is linked to a variety of health problems. Now researchers say women who sleep poorly are at higher risk for fibromyalgia; especially middle-age and older women.

Scientists studied data spanning ten years to find the possible link between fibromyalgia and sleep disturbances in women. The association was stronger in older women, compared to those who were younger.

Fibromyalgia is known to cause insomnia and frequent awakening, but scientists haven’t been certain whether poor sleep can cause the painful disorder that affects more than 5 million people in the U.S. over the age of 18.

According to the National Institutes of Health, suspected causes of the condition include physical or emotional trauma, abnormal brain response to pain, poor sleep and infection origin, though researchers have been unable to pinpoint a virus or bacteria that might cause the disease.

Fibromyalgia can cause mild to severe symptoms and is often accompanied by depression.

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Drs. Paul Mork and Tom Nilsen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) reviewed data for this study in 12,350 women in Norway, age 20 and above who were part of a large population-based health study called the HUNT study.

"Our findings indicate a strong association between sleep disturbance and fibromyalgia risk in adult women," said Dr. Mork. "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."

The results, published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, found that 327 women- 2.6% - had developed fibromyalgia during the ten years.

When the researchers adjusted the finding for women who reported problems with sleep, the incidence of fibromyalgia was 5.41 among women over 45 years of age and 2.98 among women between 20 and 44 years.

The authors say more studies are needed to find out if treating women for sleep problems would help reduce the incidence of fibromyalgia. Overall, there are 3 to 5 percent of the population suffering from the condition; 90% are women.

Sleep Problems and Risk of Fibromyalgia: Longitudinal Data from the Norwegian HUNT Study." Paul J Mork and Tom IL Nilsen. Arthritis & Rheumatism; Published Online: November 14, 2011 (DOI: 10.1002/art.33346).

Image credit: morguefile