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Original Investigation
August 14, 2006

Chronic Widespread Pain and Its Comorbidities: A Population-Based Study

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet (Drs Kato, Sullivan, and Pedersen), and Department of Laboratory Medicine, Karolinska Institutet at Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge (Dr Evengård), Stockholm, Sweden; Departments of Genetics, Psychiatry, and Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Dr Sullivan); and Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles (Dr Pedersen).

Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(15):1649-1654. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.15.1649

Background  Chronic widespread pain (CWP), the cardinal symptom of fibromyalgia, is prevalent and co-occurs with numerous symptom-based conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, joint pain, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, and psychiatric disorders. Few studies have examined the comorbidities of CWP in the general population. Furthermore, little is known about the importance of familial (genetic and family environmental) factors in the etiology of co-occurrence.

Methods  Data were obtained from 44 897 individuals in the Swedish Twin Registry via computer-assisted telephone interview from 1998 through 2002 (age ≥42 years; 73.2% response rate). Screening for CWP was based on the American College of Rheumatology criteria without clinical evaluation. Measures for comorbidities were based on standard criteria when available. Odds ratios (ORs) were calculated in case-control and co-twin control designs to assess the effect of familial confounding in the associations.

Results  Considerable co-occurrences were found in CWP cases for chronic fatigue (OR, 23.53; 95% confidence interval [CI], 19.67-28.16), joint pain (OR, 7.41; 95% CI, 6.70-8.21), depressive symptoms (OR, 5.26; 95% CI, 4.75-5.82), and irritable bowel syndrome (OR, 5.17; 95% CI, 4.55-5.88). In co-twin control analyses, ORs were no longer significant for psychiatric disorders, whereas they decreased but remained significant for most other comorbidities. No changes in ORs were observed for headache.

Conclusions  Associations between CWP and most comorbidities are mediated by unmeasured genetic and family environmental factors in the general population. The extent of mediation via familial factors is likely to be disorder specific.