A lack of emotional self-awareness and a distressed personality are traits often described in patients with fibromyalgia. However, if depression associated with this disease is controlled, the incidence of these personality traits is no different from the general population, a review study from Italy shows.
The study, “Personality Traits in Fibromyalgia (FM): Does FM Personality Exists? A Systematic Review,” was published in the journal Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health.
Several studies have reported that psychiatric conditions of various kinds can co-exist with fibromyalgia, including mood disorders and anxiety disorders. Specifically, reports have noted that 20-80% of fibromyalgia patients suffer from major depression, while many patients may also experience persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) and generalized anxiety disorder.
Researchers have tried to better understand the personality profile of patients and how it could impact fibromyalgia and its progression.
But the results are controversial, with studies reporting different patient groups based on the co-existence of personality disorders, while other failed to find significant changes between incidence of personality disorders in fibromyalgia patients and healthy volunteers.
For more understanding on the subject, a team led by researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy reviewed the available data published in 21 studies that evaluated personality traits in fibromyalgia patients.
According to the studies’ results, patients may experience changes in the way the brain manages executive functions related to planning, working memory, attention, and inhibition.
Given so, “the presence of alterations in both attentional and emotional aspects of information processing … could explain the main symptoms of fibromyalgia,” researchers wrote.
Five studies focused specifically on alexithymia, a personality trait that is characterized by the inability of people to identify or describe their own emotions and feelings.
These studies suggested that alexithymia was more frequent in fibromyalgia patients than in healthy people, and was associated with a higher level of pain intensity and pain experience.
In addition, alexithymic patients showed higher levels of anxiety, depression, and emotional distress. However, when the secondary manifestations were controlled, the presence of alexithymia lost its relevant role in pain intensity.
A study also reported that 56.5% of fibromyalgia patients show distressed (or type D) personality, which is linked to poorer mental health and physical well-being.
Despite the evidence available on the potential role of personality trait disorders in fibromyalgia manifestations, it is difficult to assess and draw conclusive remarks with systematic data review.
The lack of a formal definition and diagnostic methods for fibromyalgia make the task of patient recruitment difficult and variable, which can have serious implications in the analysis of results. Also, the existence of several different approaches that can be used to evaluate personality profiles makes it more difficult to compile and compare study data.
“The relevance of a clear definition of fibromyalgia is [indicated], together with the necessity to enroll participants on the basis of more recent [diagnostic] criteria,” researchers wrote.
Still, they believe “the use of a comprehensive model of personality and of psychopathological [with psychological disturbances] disorders, such as anxiety and depression, seems to be very relevant for a better understanding of a specific personality profile associated with fibromyalgia.”