Obese People Increase Their Risk for Fibromyalgia

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Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have discovered that being overweight or obese is a strong and independent risk factor for the future development of fibromyalgia (FM) in women, particularly for those who are inactive.

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic pain syndrome characterized by widespread pain lasting more than 3 months, and tender point sites in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs.

Associated features often include unexplained fatigue, sleep disturbances, headache, cognitive difficulty, and mood disturbances. The prevalence of FM increases with age and is considerably higher among women than men.

* Fibromyalgia Thrives on Inactivity, Diminishes with Exercise
* The Painful Truth About Fibromyalgia

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According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, FM has been linked to stressful or traumatic events, such as car accidents, repetitive injuries, illness, certain diseases, or FM can occur spontaneously. Some scientists speculate that a gene or genes might be involved in fibromyalgia that could make a person react strongly to things that other people would not find painful.

The Norwegian researchers, led by Paul Mork, D.Phil., proposed that first, there is an association between levels of leisure time physical exercise and future risk of FM and, second, being overweight/obese may represent an independent risk factor for future development of FM.

"Women who reported exercising 4 times per week had a 29% lower risk of FM compared with inactive women," says Dr. Mork. "Similar results were found in the analysis of the summary score combining information on frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise; women with the highest exercise level had a somewhat lower risk than inactive women.

The study further shows that a high BMI is a strong and independent risk factor for future development of FM. Moreover, the higher relative risks for the combined effect of being overweight/obese and inactive, relative to being overweight/obese alone, point to a further disadvantage for overweight women who do not exercise."

Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis also has been identified both in the obese and in patients with fibromyalgia, as has increased sympathetic tone and reduced sympathetic reactivity.

"An autonomic dysfunction may therefore contribute to enhanced pain and other symptoms associated with [fibromyalgia] (e.g., disturbed sleep, fatigue) by alterations of the physiologic responses required for adequate stress management and pain inhibition," the authors wrote. The author also stated that "Community-based measures aimed at reducing the incidence of FM should emphasize the importance of regular physical exercise and maintenance of normal body weight.”

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