Objective: To examine the nosological concept of fibromyalgia in the general population.
Methods: A postal survey of rheumatic pain and non-specific bodily complaints was sent to all 3174 German female residents of Bad Säckingen, Germany, aged 35 to 74 yr. A stratified random sample of 653 subjects was further examined in a clinical survey.
Results: On the population level the point prevalence of chronic widespread pain was 13.5%. In the clinical survey, tender point count was associated not only with the extent of rheumatic pain, but also independently with the extent of bodily complaints. Subjects with no history of rheumatic pain but with non-specific bodily complaints had as many positive tender points as subjects without bodily complaints but with a history of rheumatic pain. Subjects could be identified who met the tender point criterion of the ACR without a history of widespread pain. Multivariate analyses demonstrated that some symptoms carry a risk for positive tender points (low physical mobility, pain, bodily complaints) and some for chronic widespread pain (poor health status, catastrophizing, emotional reactions, low energy level, sleep disturbances) that are independent of each other and of age.
Conclusions: The results do not only question the relevance and specificity of a history of widespread pain in diagnosing fibromyalgia, but also the concept of fibromyalgia as a distinct rheumatological disorder. The results support the concept of fibromyalgia as part of a wider spectrum of dysfunctional syndromes.