Personality Traits May Impact Severity of Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Personality Traits May Impact Severity of Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Patients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome tend to fall into two personality categories, of which one group has more severe symptoms — an insight that might improve both evaluation and treatment of patients based on their specific needs and psychological capabilities.

The study, Distinctive personality profiles of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome patients,” published in the journal PeerJ, underscored that such assessments would conform to the idea of personalized medicine, which is currently gaining ground.

Research in the early 1990s suggested that people have characteristic personality differences based on how they learn in situations of novelty, danger, punishment, and reward. A few earlier studies attempted to link certain personality traits to fibromyalgia, but failed.

Researchers at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, both in Israel, attempted a different approach to explore how differences in personality may affect fibromyalgia.

The team enrolled 344 patients with self-reported fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, who were asked to complete a questionnaire. The survey was completed by 204 patients, and an additional 140 participants provided answers to only parts of the survey.

Researchers used the Fibromyalgia Criteria and Severity Scales (FCSS) to identify patients who met diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia, finding that 260 participants (75.6 percent) did so. But researchers also noted that those who did not meet the diagnostic criteria had high levels of chronic widespread pain, fatigue, and other fibromyalgia symptoms, indicating it was possible that they represented sub-threshold fibromyalgia cases.

Of the people who did qualify for a fibromyalgia diagnosis, 90.4 percent were women.

The study did not compare fibromyalgia with chronic fatigue syndrome patients, but rather viewed the conditions as overlapping among the study participants.

A tool called Temperament and Character Inventory Revised (TCI-R) was used on the survey, assessing seven different traits. In addition, a questionnaire for type D personality and the Positivity Orientation Scale was used.

Four particular personality aspects were the focus of the study: alexithymia, type D personality, positivity, and social support. Alexithymia is a condition in which a person has difficulty recognizing and describing emotions in her or himself. People with type D personality tend to have more negative emotions and avoid social interactions. Positivity, which is expressed through self-confidence, optimism, and satisfaction with life, and social support were also assessed.

There was no difference in the proportion of participants who had a type D personality between the groups with and without a fibromyalgia diagnosis.

Researchers performed a so-called cluster analysis to see if personality traits could be grouped together and found that the traits could be clumped into two clusters.

One group, composed of 97 people, was characterized by lower levels of self-determination and cooperativeness — the tendency to be agreeable in relations with other people compared to aggressively self-centered and hostile.

People in this group tended to have lower persistence — the capacity of perseverance in spite of fatigue or frustration; fewer tendencies toward sentimentality and dependence on the approval of others; and were more likely to be shy, easily worn out, and worry in a pessimistic way.

They also had higher levels of alexithymia; less social support; lower levels of positivity; and more often had type D personality compared to patients in the other group.

This group of patients had significantly more severe symptoms, but belonging to either group was not linked to differences in health assessment, pain, or levels of physical activity.

“The significant pattern of results indicates at least two distinct personality profiles of FM [fibromyalgia] and CFS [chronic fatigue syndrome] patients,” the team wrote in their report. “Findings from this research may help improve the evaluation and treatment of FM and CFS patients, based on each patient’s unique needs, psychological resources, and weaknesses, as proposed by the current trend of personalized medicine.”

23 comments

  1. JaimeS says:

    I’ll turn to my horoscope for this level of reliability and predictive power. Seriously, this trend of ‘personality-based medicine’ has to die.

    • M. Meyers says:

      I agree. Although I believe in mind-body effects, this article (which I read twice) makes no sense. The researchers appear to be straining to connect pain to personality without asking themselves which came first–the pain as a cause of a personality effect or personality as a cause of pain? The article lacks explication and clarity.

      • Rita says:

        You are so right. When you are fed up with this kind of nonsense and society does not get it, you become shy of events and of expressing yourself at doctors. Half the time you get more pain when you have to see a medical person as you may have to go through the whole experience again, than for them to tell you you need sleep/exercise etc. This research does not help.

      • Marcia says:

        YES! I never had anxiety or a very low sense of self worth until long after the pain! IN fact I was diagnosed with Fibro over 10 yrs b4 I was diagnosed with chronic migraines 6 yrs ago. it was about 2-3 yrs into that diagnosis that I started seeing ME as in my “self” “personality” etc change. Not to mention many other health issues. I think they would need to talk to ppl who knew me yrs ago…. like my Mom, BF even my Mother in law, who noticed the biggest changes about 4 yrs ago while I was going through hundreds of meds and procedures!… Maybe the should add a few pages on “history” of the ppl b4 coming to any conclusions…. just sayin’

    • Sha'ula says:

      Agreed. After at least 30 years of being diagnosed with ME/CFS will tell you I “WAS” as in past tense one of the most positive energetic athletic bubbly person around, but after years of dealing with disease it has taken a huge toll on my temperment and personality with the on-going grief of loss of self and frustration coping with this. Hell yeah! And many others were the same as me BEFORE the years of dealing with this disease and the researchers if given this disease would also have major personality changes. Duh? This is BS as far as I am concerned. Let’s STOP blaming the victims PLEASE????!!

    • Suzie says:

      Hell, yes. Absolutely appalling! Can you imagine researchers wasting money on research like this if 90% of the patients were men?! Unbelievable.

    • Kelli Keiler says:

      Our personalities and coping styles directly affect our ability to cope/manage illness and wellness. Regardless of which came first, helping somone work on their weaknesses in order to cope with chronic illness has merit.

      • Karen H says:

        I suppose if that is what the article tried to say, then there would have been less people taking issue with it. There was no discussion of the personalities of those that are successfully managing. Or perhaps my 3 doctors have all been wrong and I wouldn’t have qualified as a person with FM. The slant in the above article was to say that anyone who has these illnesses are causing the illnesses with personality. I had some severe symptoms over the years and I handle them with positivity and persistence, but it did make the illness go away. In many cases the increased physical and social activity will cause my symptoms to flare. I push through as best I can because I don’t want to be left out or written off. And still there is pain.

  2. Kas says:

    Jaimes I agree with you-this smacks of poorly constructed and conducted research which is looking for easy answers to a complex chronic illness. Let’s not forget that Parkinson’s disease was considered to be pyschological before medicine moved on and discovered the reality of this cruel disease. I wish these psychologists would wake up to themselves.

  3. Victoria ross Bush says:

    Chicken and egg, which came first the illness or the “personality traits”? Pain and fatigue have in my case changed me from an positive extrovert to a pessimistic near recluse. But according to this so called medical research the reason my symptoms are so bad is basically that I have a negative attitude. I used to analyse data for a living and I know you can “prove” almost anything. This survey is seriously flawed with no information on how people were before the symptoms.

  4. Hip says:

    Personality traits may also impact what type of medical science field a researcher is attracted to: if the researcher is logical and sharp minded, they will likely go into biomedical research; but if the researcher’s mind is more soft and empathetic, I think they may more likely choose psychology.

    This is why so much of medical psychology is waffle (especially the area of so-called somatoform disorders), and why psychology remains largely divorced from the mind’s neurological and immunological underpinnings of the brain. It’s simply because many psychologists don’t have the talents or abilities to grasp the biological mechanics of the brain. So they focus on the mind as the etiological source of disease, and ignore brain.

    Diseases such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis) may have some neuropsychological symptoms (as many neurological diseases do), but anyone who understands the biology of these diseases will known that fibromyalgia and CFS involve numerous physical pathophysiologies, including major deficiencies in mitochondrial energy production, autoimmune attack on the nervous system, and likely on the mitochondria as well, chronic microglial activation, and dozens of other physical abnormalities.

    You don’t need to know a CFS patient’s personality type in order to treat them: you need to be researching the reasons why there is a deficiency in mitochondrial energy metabolism in CFS, and develop treatments that can address it.

  5. Karen says:

    Was there any effort to determine whether the illness preceded the personality trait? I.e. I relied on a mild amount of intelligence and a large amount of persistence to achieve my academic and professional goals. Even throughout 18 years of chronic moderate and high levels of pain. Finally after the pain became severe did I give up the 60 hour work weeks .. after nearly 4 decades my personality has apparently completely changed. And now the lack of persistence ‘trait’ will be used to indicate a reason for my illness? But but but .. I say the illness has led to my personality ‘weakness’. I wonder if any personality weaknesses are the cause of cancer?

  6. Joyce says:

    I agree with most of the above replies. Beginning my career as a therapist, I had to pass several MMPI’S and was told that I had the healthiest profile of anyone who had been admitted into the program at that time. Years later, after working for 10 years in an overly demanding position while ill with FMS, I had to go on disability. What kept me going? Persistence, love for my children, and a desire to take care of them financially, positivity, skills, and tolerance of physical pain. I recovered on weekends and nights,& lost my social life completely as a result. This research is bogus. Too bad all psychology programs don’t require the healthy passing of personality tests, we might have better research than this!

    • Polly Nuschler says:

      @Joyce
      I’ve had FMS since I was 19 years old and today is my 68th birthday. In the late 1960s I was considered a pysch case. I would go into the anesthesia department 3x/week and have trigger point injections–sometimes up to 30 injections of solu-medrol and lidocaine. It had started as a bad bicycle accident–struck by a car and flipped over the bonnet (hood.) Fractures of jaw, orbital bones, and two vertebra. Facial avulsion that required 10 plastic surgeries to “replace” my face. I got SO tired of hearing..”Are you hoping to get money for a lawsuit?” I was flabbergasted. It was a hit and run! Read the police report! I was in pre-med, working nights as a nurse aide in ICU. On my own–Hey I would have MUCH rather have been up skiing, backpacking, hiking or technical mountain climbing! I was teaching vertebrate embryology lab by my junior year. I guess these doctors thought I LOVED having muscle biopsies, bone marrow biopsies, EMGs, EEGs, x-rays, consults, and physical therapy. Heck no! I was the only woman in pre-med yet was president of the pre-med society. Graduated summa. The Pain.Never.Stopped.

      Didn’t have the money for med school but became an RN, then in first class of Master’s Degree Nurse Practitioners. I was a pioneer in independent practice setting up clinics in casino towns in Nevada and rural areas of Utah. 24/7…only medical provider for 125 miles.
      The pain.Never.Stopped.
      Getting opiates was the worst thing in the world. 50 years later–still treated like a criminal and I have NEVER abused any narcotic. Any chronic pain patient will tell you that it’s like the behavior between your pain dispensing doc or a drug dealer. You smile, be nice, never pi$$ them off…that was your “stash” your “supply.” Never got “high” it would just sorta dull the pain. Never went away. Positive? My heavens I could give a speech to a 1,000 strangers…never bothered me. I didn’t just go to NBA games I got to personally KNOW the players, coaches, refs, and team owners. I could tell jokes for two hours straight..lucky to be a great dancer, won our state’s amateur championship in golf! But ALWAYS the pain…the pain. The fibro fog. Knowing that ANY extra effort would result in two days in bed. Having three brothers who are MDs and a twin sister who worked for a rheumatologist–they ALL said. “There is no such thing as Fibro. You’re just weak. It’s a “character flaw.”
      I read this article and cried. Just to be able to go one minute without the stiffness, the pain-stabbing, ache, piercing, like being on fire, the night sweats turning to chills. That trigger point under my left shoulder blade–wish I could cut out that “pound of flesh!”

      What will it take to have MDs and psychologists take us seriously?? We DO have each other–and we know we aren’t “crazy” or that this is “just psychosomatic.” But then who cares what the etiology is? Maybe a biomarker will never be found! Just help us!

      • Karen H says:

        Polly, you totally rock! It still makes me angry that anyone spent time and money on this ‘study’. I hope that Fibromyalgia News Today ignores this kind of baloney in the future. There is too much real news to report today. Let’s move on from the dark ages.

  7. Jayne bennett says:

    My personality changed AFTER living with this syndrome some time, the pain and fatigue is top of the list of symptoms but the syndrome affects other functions of the body too. As for pain sensitivity this is for me only in the tender point areas.. I have had operations and treatments in other areas and have recovered well without extra suffering.

  8. Patti Lucas says:

    I went from an active, friendly positive person to the so called type D personality due to my illness. I don’t have the energy or capability to manage the stress that social situations require. Just getting ready wears me out. And small talk is no longer a thing I enjoy. It’s hard enough keeping up with the facade of being normal; like the injured deer in the herd trying not to attract prey.

  9. Denise Bault says:

    Just more “hogwash” under the guise of “scientific research!” Quit wasting money on crap like this and start funding useful research as to why so many of us have this and find a cure!

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