Chronic widespread pain and its comorbidities: a population-based study

Arch Intern Med. 2006 Aug 14-28;166(15):1649-54. doi: 10.1001/archinte.166.15.1649.


Background: Chronic widespread pain (CWP), the cardinal symptom of fibromyalgia, is prevalent and co-occurs with numerous symptom-based conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, joint pain, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, and psychiatric disorders. Few studies have examined the comorbidities of CWP in the general population. Furthermore, little is known about the importance of familial (genetic and family environmental) factors in the etiology of co-occurrence.

Methods: Data were obtained from 44 897 individuals in the Swedish Twin Registry via computer-assisted telephone interview from 1998 through 2002 (age >/=42 years; 73.2% response rate). Screening for CWP was based on the American College of Rheumatology criteria without clinical evaluation. Measures for comorbidities were based on standard criteria when available. Odds ratios (ORs) were calculated in case-control and co-twin control designs to assess the effect of familial confounding in the associations.

Results: Considerable co-occurrences were found in CWP cases for chronic fatigue (OR, 23.53; 95% confidence interval [CI], 19.67-28.16), joint pain (OR, 7.41; 95% CI, 6.70-8.21), depressive symptoms (OR, 5.26; 95% CI, 4.75-5.82), and irritable bowel syndrome (OR, 5.17; 95% CI, 4.55-5.88). In co-twin control analyses, ORs were no longer significant for psychiatric disorders, whereas they decreased but remained significant for most other comorbidities. No changes in ORs were observed for headache.

Conclusions: Associations between CWP and most comorbidities are mediated by unmeasured genetic and family environmental factors in the general population. The extent of mediation via familial factors is likely to be disorder specific.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthralgia / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chronic Disease
  • Comorbidity
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pain / epidemiology*