Women’s Disclosure of Fibromyalgia Symptoms at Work Explored in New Study

Women’s Disclosure of Fibromyalgia Symptoms at Work Explored in New Study

For women with fibromyalgia, disclosing illness and impairments at work may entail risks to their jobs and workplace relationships. According to a recent study published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation, women with fibromyalgia often improvise ways to disclose their disease symptoms at work.

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes aches and pain all over the body, highlighted by generalized “tender points.” The prevalence of fibromyalgia in the U.S. population is as high as 5 million Americans ages 18 and older, with about 80-90% being women, according to the Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Many people with fibromyalgia continue to work full or part time. But the chronic pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia often make working very difficult. For patients with the condition it is important to learn about managing fibromyalgia symptoms while coping with pain and fatigue, and learn which is the best way to communicate fibromyalgia impairments at workplace.

In the study titled “Impromptu everyday disclosure dances: how women with fibromyalgia respond to disclosure risks at work,” M. Oldfield from the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada and colleagues, used a Critical-discourse-analysis (CDA) methodology, a type of discourse analytical research that studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context.

Data for the study were gathered through 26 semi-structured, individual interviews with participant triads or dyads comprising women with fibromyalgia, family members and supervisors or co-workers. The data was supplemented with managers’ interviews who supervised disabled employees other than the women with fibromyalgia.

The results revealed that women with fibromyalgia and other stigmatized illnesses improvise daily disclosures when they needed to clarify fluctuating work ability, when others needed reminding about invisible impairments, and when there were changes in the workplace relationships. These improvised disclosures included three distinct dimensions: exposing oneself to scrutiny by disclosing both illness and impairments, divulging stigmatized illness, and revealing invisible impairments selectively.

“Through impromptu disclosure dances, women tailored disclosure to changing immediate circumstances. While assumptions from psychological theories of risk underlie current conceptualizations of disclosure as planned in advance, this article examines disclosure through a different lens: social theories of everyday risk,” the researchers concluded.