Female veterans being treated for fibromyalgia exhibit high rates of childhood abuse, according to a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The findings suggest that screening all female veterans with fibromyalgia for childhood abuse can yield important information that may improve treatment success.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain with associated fatigue, sleep and mood issues. Although it can occur in anyone, the disorder is most prevalent in females with 75 to 90 percent of fibromyalgia patients being women. The condition has also been linked to exposure to interpersonal trauma.
As females now represent an increasing number of American veterans, the standardized screenings for military sexual trauma (MST) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are helpful in providing complete care to patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. However, there is currently no standard screening practice for childhood abuse history in these patients.
For the study, researchers from the VA (Veterans Affairs) Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) looked at a subset of women from a larger study focused on women veterans’ fibromyalgia care experiences at the VA to evaluate the link between child abuse history and MST in this patient population.
The findings show that among all female veterans with fibromyalgia, 90.9 percent reported experience of MST (of which 68.2 percent reported history of sexual assault). In addition, the average Child Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) score for these patients indicated moderate to high exposure to abuse in childhood, with many experiencing sexual abuse and emotional neglect.
Female veterans with greater MST exposure reported higher degrees of both childhood abuse and PTSD severity. The researchers conclude that screening for childhood trauma in women veterans being treated for fibromyalgia would yield important information that may enhance treatment.
“Our fibromyalgia patients have often told us that their disease feels ‘invisible’ at times,” said corresponding author Megan Gerber, M.D., M.P.H., medical director of women’s health at VA Boston Healthcare System (VABHS) and associate professor of medicine at BUSM.
“We believe these preliminary study results may help female veterans with fibromyalgia seek treatment for both their physical symptoms and trauma histories.”
“The VA is uniquely positioned to treat a complex condition like fibromyalgia and additional research is underway here to better understand interventions for this disabling chronic pain syndrome.”
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