Fibromyalgia Symptom Severity Remains Mostly Unchanged for Decades, Study Finds

Fibromyalgia Symptom Severity Remains Mostly Unchanged for Decades, Study Finds

A study in Finland that revisited patients with fibromyalgia 26 years after their diagnoses found that the severity of symptoms had remained relatively unchanged. Researchers did not find significant deterioration in the patients’ self-reported ability to function.

The study, titled “Severity of symptoms persists for decades in fibromyalgia — a 26-year follow-up study,” was published in the journal Clinical Rheumatology.

The study included 28 patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1986 who filled out a follow-up questionnaire some 26 years later. The average age of patients who filled out the surveys was 70. The survey contained 52 questions, including from the Stanford Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ), a self-reported assessment of ability to function.

Ability to function was found to have remained at the same level by the end of the study, compared to the time of diagnosis.

Three patients said they had recovered from fibromyalgia (11 percent), and six (23 percent) reported having had one or more symptomless periods that lasted for at least one year. A slight deterioration in all symptoms except pain and ache was reported in 25 of the 28 respondents. But the “sum score of reported symptoms did not change significantly,” the researchers wrote.

More sleeplessness was reported by 27 of the respondents.

The most common symptoms reported at both the beginning and the end of the study by the same patients were morning stiffness (23 patients), influence of weather changes on symptoms (23 patients), pain during movements (18 patients), numbness and tightness of muscles (15 patients), and general fatigue (13 patients).

Patients’ use of pain medication increased in 61 percent of cases, remained the same in 8 percent, and decreased in 31 percent.

Regular exercise was reported by 21 of 24 patients (88 percent) who answered a question about exercise. The team highlighted that while exercise does not appear to improve symptoms, it likely maintains the ability to function at the same level.

Based on the study, the researchers noted that fibromyalgia patients should be told that “symptoms are likely to remain, but will probably fluctuate so that even long symptomless periods may take place.”

“We conclude that this study shows that in most cases the FM symptoms persist for years and even decades,” the researchers wrote, adding that “we did not find any explanations to the poor or good outcome, but most of our patients performed physical exercise regularly.”