Background: Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome with no cure. A thorough understanding of the illness experience is therefore key in the palliative care of patients with this condition. In search for supportive treatments fibromyalgia patients often attend a chiropractor or other manual therapist. Knowledge of the meaning and reality of living with this condition to the patient could be considered essential to any health care practitioner playing a role in the management. This study aimed to gain a better understanding of the subjective experience of fibromyalgia, focusing on the personal, occupational and social impact of the condition on patients' lives. This included exploring the patients' views about the future.
Methods: This study employed descriptive phenomenology and adopted Husserl's concept of transcendental subjectivity or "bracketing". This qualitative study involved semi-structured interviews and was undertaken to obtain rich data that reflected the essence of the participants' experience. Participants consisted of six female volunteers, diagnosed with fibromyalgia by the University Hospital Gent, Belgium. Data were analysed using a thematic framework.
Results: Fibromyalgia pervaded all aspects of life. Four main themes arose from data analysis, namely; the impact of fibromyalgia on patients' occupational and personal life, the impact on their future and aspects of social interaction. Nearly all participants had stopped working, giving rise to feelings of uselessness and loss of identity. Leisure activities were also greatly affected. Fibromyalgia was said to alter family bonds, some of which were reinforced, others were broken. The diagnosis was seen as a relief, marking an end to a period of uncertainty. Participants reported ambivalence in interaction. Despite some positive encounters, frustration arising from perceived incomprehension dominated. Consequently patients preferred not to share their experiences.
Conclusions: The study revealed the negative impact of fibromyalgia on patients' lives as comprising of great complexity and individuality. Several implications for health care practitioners can be extrapolated, including the need of a more efficient diagnostic process and increased education about the fibromyalgia experience. Further studies are required to better clarify the multifaceted nature of living with the condition.