Most women know that along with the joys of being pregnant can come some discomfort and pain. However, for women with fibromyalgia, a disease that causes chronic pain, fatigue and stress, pregnancy may be even more uncomfortable.
In a preliminary study, researchers have been able to show that women with fibromyalgia complain of worse pregnancy symptoms than women without the disorder. This is significant, as many drugs typically taken to combat the pain of fibromyalgia cannot be taken during pregnancy as they may cause birth defects.
"Women with fibromyalgia are concerned about what is going to happen during pregnancy," said Dr. Karen M. Schaefer, study author and assistant professor of nursing at Temple University's College of Health Professions.
Fibromyalgia is a misunderstood, chronic disease which affects about one in every 50 Americans, most of whom are women. Some think that that people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, spinal arthritis or a family history of fibromyalgia are at a greater risk for developing this disease. Symptoms can include pain in specific areas of the body, such as the shoulders, back, arms and legs. It can also cause fatigue, headaches, tingling in the hands or feet and even difficulty remembering things.
The difficulty, however, lies in the fact that pregnancy can cause similar symptoms to fibromyalgia, and up to this point, it has been difficult to determine if a pregnant woman with this disorder is experiencing her symptoms as a result of fibromyalgia, her pregnancy or a combination of both.
The best evidence for a combined effect has been a few, inconclusive studies and personal reports from patients that their fibromyalgia worsens during pregnancy. So, to gauge the extent by which fibromyalgia affects the symptoms of pregnancy, Schaefer and colleagues sent surveys to fourteen women who were in the last trimester of their pregnancy, half of whom had fibromyalgia.
The participants were all between the ages of 29 and 31, none of whom had a chronic illness besides fibromyalgia. Surveys asked about the degree of fatigue, pain, depression and ability to function.
The pregnant women with fibromyalgia reported having a more difficult time functioning during routine activities than the rest of the group. Additionally, they complained of feeling more tired, stiff and having more pain in more areas of the body than the women without fibromyalgia.
"Until now, there was only anecdotal evidence suggesting that women with fibromyalgia had a rougher time during pregnancy," said Schaefer. "This data is the first step toward gathering hard evidence of fibromyalgia's effects on this group and will hopefully help us identify ways to reduce the impact of fibromyalgia during pregnancy."
Schaefer is quick to state that this study is small and preliminary. Further, larger studies will be needed to confirm these results and better understand the connections between fibromyalgia and pregnancy.
However, if you do have fibromyalgia and are experiencing any difficulties with your pregnancy, Schaeffer recommends that you discuss any pain and fatigue with your doctor. "Part of it is just preparing the women for what might happen," said Schaefer.
While the drugs you normally take to ease the pain may not be possible to take during pregnancy, there are support groups that can help. Also, make sure to plan for additional help during and after your pregnancy.