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Obesity and Disability in Fibromyalgia Linked


For the millions of people who have fibromyalgia, the chronic pain and fatigue that characterize the syndrome are all too familiar and can be debilitating. Now a new study reports that there is a close association between obesity and disability in people who have fibromyalgia.

Obesity can significantly complicate fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome that affects an estimated 10 million Americans, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association, and most of them are women. Symptoms can be severe and debilitating, interfering with a patient’s regular daily activities.

In a previous study, results provided preliminary evidence that obesity may have a role in fibromyalgia-related dysfunction. In that study, 50 percent of the study participants were obese, compared with about 30 percent in the general population.

In the new study from the University of Utah, researchers hypothesized that obesity can be a significant factor in disability in fibromyalgia patients. A total of 250 patients with the syndrome were evaluated, including assessments of physical abilities, sleep quality, and heart rate.

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The authors found that 47 percent of the participants were obese and an additional 30 percent were overweight. Compared with other patients in the study, obese patients had increased pain sensitivity, especially in their lower body, as well as reduced strength, impaired flexibility, and poorer sleep quality.

While the study’s authors concluded that obesity can exacerbate disability in fibromyalgia patients, they also pointed out that weight loss can improve symptoms. Recent studies have shown that yoga can reduce pain, fatigue, and depression, as well as other symptoms in fibromyalgia patients.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that tai chi can help reduce pain, stiffness, sleeplessness, and anxiety experienced by fibromyalgia patients. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center reported that short bursts of activity such as taking the stairs and gardening for 30 minutes several times a week can help reduce pain.

The often debilitating symptoms of fibromyalgia can make it difficult for patients to stay motivated and to get adequate exercise. When patients are obese, that goal is even harder. The link between obesity and disability in fibromyalgia patients suggests that adopting a healthier diet and exercise habits could help break that link.

National Fibromyalgia Association
Okifuji A et al. The Journal of Pain 2010; 11(12): 1329
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