Pregnant women with fibromyalgia (FM) experience significant pain, fatigue and psychological stress, symptoms that are often misdiagnosed or undertreated as a normal part of pregnancy, according to a pilot study by Karen M. Schaefer, D.N.Sc., R.N., assistant professor of nursing at Temple University’s College of Health Professions. Her research, the first to look at the impact of pregnancy on women with FM, was recently presented at the 2006 Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses’ convention in Baltimore.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition commonly found in women that causes pain in the muscles and soft tissues of the body. Many sufferers feel weak from fatigue, and the condition, at its worst, can lead to disability.

“Until now, there was only anecdotal evidence suggesting that women with FM had a rougher time during pregnancy,” said Schaefer. “This data is the first step toward gathering hard evidence of FM effects on this group and will hopefully help us identify ways to reduce the impact of fibromyalgia during pregnancy.”

For this study, Schaefer recruited pregnant women with and without FM through an Internet announcement on a fibromyalgia Web site. Study subjects were between the ages of 29 and 31, in their third trimester, with no history of stillbirth and free of chronic illnesses other than FM.

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The women were then mailed a questionnaire about fatigue, depression, pain and ability to function. A demographic form was also used to assess the number of painful areas in the body as well as age, marital status, education, hours slept and use of medication.

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Schaefer’s results revealed that the pregnant women with fibromyalgia had a hard time functioning, felt more stiff and tired, and experienced pain in more body areas than women without FM.

“Most women with FM have trouble getting this condition properly diagnosed, let alone knowing where to turn for help once their condition is identified. We need to start looking at how FM affects all areas of these women’s lives and come up with ways to provide as much comfort and support as possible,” she said.

Schaefer, whose research focuses on women with chronic illness (fibromyalgia, lupus, ovarian cancer) is currently expanding her study to include a larger group of subjects.

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