Obesity Increases Risk of Fibromyalgia

As if there weren't enough reasons to keep yourself at a healthy weight, researchers now say that being obese is a risk factor for fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a condition related to arthritis that causes pain in muscles, ligaments, and tendons all over the body. It affects at least one out of 50 people in this country, and the incidence rises with age.

In a recent Norwegian study, scientists looked at data from a study involving almost 16,000 women. At the outset, the womens' exercise habits were measured, as well as their body-mass indexes (BMIs). After 11 years, the researchers again looked at the womens' exercise patterns and BMIs, comparing those of the 380 women who were diagnosed with fibromyalgia during the study with those who remained free of the disease. While exercise definitely reduced a woman's risk of developing fibromyalgia, the women's BMIs, independent of whether they worked out, really made a difference: Women with BMIs at or above 25 (clinically overweight)  were 60 percent to 70 percent more likely to develop fibromyalgia than their slimmer counterparts.

While the researchers were unable to pinpoint exactly why and how obesity may act as a trigger for fibromyalgia, they found a definitive relationship between exercise and the disease. Specifically, the more a woman exercised, even if she was heavy, the less likely she was to develop fibromyalgia. Women who said they exercised four times a week were 29 percent less likely to have fibromyalgia at the end of the study than the inactive women. And the women who said their workouts lasted a long time, and/or were fairly intense, also lowered their risk.

Fibromyalgia's causes remain a mystery, although many healthcare professionals believe it has a genetic component, may develop after an infection, or can be trigged after an emotionally traumatic event. It may also develop after another rheumatic disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Patients can manage the pain with over-the-counter or prescription painkillers, physical therapy, and counseling.

Sources: American College of Rheumatology, www.rheumatology.org; Murk PJ, Vasseljen O, Nilsen T I L (2010). Association Between Physical Exercise, Body Mass Index, and Risk of Fibromyalgia: Longitudinal Data From the Norwegian Nord-Trondelag Health Study. Arthritis Care & Research, 62(5), 611-617.