Fibromyalgia onset has a high impact on work ability in Australians

Intern Med J. 2016 Sep;46(9):1069-74. doi: 10.1111/imj.13135.


Background: Although the disabling effects of fibromyalgia (FM) are well recognised, there are no published data regarding the impact of FM on work ability in Australians. The impact of the development of FM symptoms on ability to work in Australians was explored in a pilot survey project.

Method: Members of the Fibromyalgia Support Network of Western Australia were invited to undertake an anonymous online survey. Information was gathered regarding demographics, symptom onset, the timing of diagnosis, employment status and changes in the ability to work.

Results: Two hundred and eighty-seven responses were analysed. Of the respondents, 90.6% were female, with a mean age of 51.1 ± 10.6 years and had experienced symptoms between 2 and 20 years; 52.8% were diagnosed less than 5 years previously. Of the participants, 54.2% were working full time and 21.5% working part time at symptom onset; however, only 15.6% were currently working full time, with 44.8% not currently working at all. Because of FM, 24.3% stopped and 32.6% reduced paid work directly within 5 years of symptom development, with 15.3% ceasing and an additional 17.4% reducing work because of symptoms before diagnosis. Due to FM symptoms, 35.1% currently received financial support because they were unable to work. While 24.3% reported FM medication increased their ability to work, 20.8% reported it reduced their ability to work.

Conclusion: A community pilot survey of Australians with FM indicates a high impact on work ability. This occurs from symptom onset and often before diagnosis. Early diagnosis and intervention may provide a window of opportunity to prevent work disability in FM.

Keywords: Australian; employment; fibromyalgia; survey; work ability.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / economics*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Quality of Life
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Western Australia
  • Work Capacity Evaluation*