Getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia may be the first hurdle patients have to overcome, but it is not the last. According to a broad study of fibromyalgia sufferers in the United States and Denmark, individuals with fibromyalgia have a higher risk of suicide and depression as well.
They compared these results to patients with just typical lower back pain, and the odds ratios were 26.9 for back pain patients and 48.0 for people with fibromyalgia. Although this still means that only a portion of people with fibromyalgia may develop suicide ideation or attempt suicide, it still indicates the extreme pain and intensity of the disease.
Why Does This Occur?
There are many possible reasons for suicide to be higher among fibromyalgia patients. Basically, this disease often has a co-morbidity. It is likely to occur along with other issues like depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety disorders, and irritable bowel syndrome. These co-morbidities are diagnosed separately, but they are more common among people with fibromyalgia.
Depression, in particular, is likely to increase the risk of suicide or suicidal ideation. Despite this normal correlation between depression and suicide, a Danish study showed that the increase in suicide occurred among people who did not have a previous medical history of depression.
Over time, the stress of dealing with the pain of fibromyalgia can cause anxiety. The individual may become socially isolated as fatigue sets in. As a result of the pain, the fibromyalgia sufferer may stop being as active. By becoming withdrawn from the world, the individual is more likely to develop conditions like anxiety and depression. When all of these symptoms end up occurring at the same time, it greatly increases someone’s chances of becoming suicidal.
Accidental Death or Suicide?
Previous studies have shown that fibromyalgia patients are more likely to have an accidental death like a car accident. The new studies about fibromyalgia and suicide seem to suggest that these accidental deaths could at least partially be due to the higher suicide risk among fibromyalgia patients.
Since accidental deaths, liver disease, suicide, and cerebrovascular disease are more likely among fibromyalgia patients, physicians should check any fibromyalgia patients for these issues when they visit the doctor.
Depression and Fibromyalgia
Depending on the study, individuals with fibromyalgia are three times as likely to have depression or more. They are also up to ten times more likely to commit suicide. Researchers believe that depression is caused by a change in the way the mind works. Once the chemistry of the mind changes, the individual may feel depressed or anxious.
Researchers also think that depression may be connected to the sympathetic nervous system. Since the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for how people handle stress and fight-or-flight situations, it can cause significant problems when overactive. When the nervous system starts to become overactive, it can cause increased pain, depression or suicidal ideation.
Looking for Symptoms
The main way to prevent suicide among people with fibromyalgia is by being proactive. When someone starts to become depressed, they may suddenly lose interest in their favorite pastimes, feel guilty or suffer from a general sense of worthlessness. Physically, they may have lower energy levels and sudden changes in their weight. Thinking or fantasizing about death is a key thing to watch out for.
Any signs of depression or interest in death should immediately be reported to a physician. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 20 percent of fibromyalgia patients suffer from anxiety or depression, so these individuals should be mindful of any sudden change in their attitude and behavior.
Treating Fibromyalgia Is the First Step Toward Preventing Suicide
When fibromyalgia is not treated, the individual may fall into a downward spiral of pain, depression, and fatigue. The pain of this disease causes people to limit the activities and exercise that they do on a daily basis. As this downward spiral continues, the individual may feel isolated from the outside world, suspicious, lonely or anxious.
Other than the obvious medical concerns of undiagnosed fibromyalgia, individuals also have to worry about their jobs. Fatigue and concentration difficulties can make mistakes at work more likely, and sick days often increase. Unfortunately, this makes a job loss more likely, which can increase stress.
Since stress causes symptoms of fibromyalgia to heighten, this entire downward spiral renews with a vengeance. In general, individuals who wait longer to get their pain treated are more likely to deal with stress-related symptoms.
Reducing the Risk of Suicide and Decreasing Pain Levels
Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to reduce the risk of suicide and pain. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are ways to mitigate some of the symptoms. When it comes to depression and suicide, doctors will often recommend taking antidepressants or talking to a therapist. Joining a support group of fibromyalgia patients can help you to reduce the sensation of isolation and loneliness.
Since the chronic pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia help to fuel depression, you should work on treating these symptoms as well. A lack of sleep is correlated to increase pain levels, so getting a better quality of sleep is one of the first steps.
Additionally, a Harvard Medical School study showed that strength training, stretching, and aerobics were able to improve the physical and mental health of female fibromyalgia patients over the course of four months.
Alternative Treatment Options
When someone has lost the will to live, getting up the energy or interest in exploring the outside world is a monumental task. Small steps need to be taken to resume a normal life. Some alternative treatments like deep tissue massage, acupuncture, and Tai Chi have had some success in treating depression and fibromyalgia.
Acupuncture has been shown to decrease pain levels over time, so it is an excellent choice for pain sufferers. Likewise, deep tissue massage may help to reduce pain and lower stress levels.
Tai Chi is also an excellent alternative treatment for several reasons. It allows the individual to get out of the house and socialize with other people. Since it has a very low impact on the joints and muscles, it is also a way to exercise that does not hurt the body. Over time, lowered obesity and exercise can reduce some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. In the meanwhile, the endorphins produced from exercising are a natural way to reduce stress and depression.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Fibromyalgia.” http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/fibromyalgia
Boriginia, Mark. “Fibromyalgia and Death.” Psychology Today. January 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/overcoming-pain/201101/fibromyalgia-and-death
Dreyer, Lene; Kendall, Sally; Danneskiold-Samsoe, Bente; Bartels, Else Marie; and Bleddal, Henning. “Mortality in Cohort of Patients with Fibromyalgia: Increased Frequency of Suicide.” Arthritis and Rheumatology. Vol. 62, Issue 10. October 2010. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/art.27623/full
Jimenez-Rodriguez, Irene; et, al. “Suicidal Ideation and the Risk of Suicide in Patients With Fibromyalgia.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. Vol. 2014:10. April 2014. http://www.dovepress.com/suicidal-ideation-and-the-risk-of-suicide-in-patients-with-fibromyalgi-peer-reviewed-article-NDT