The Problem of Pain in Rheumatology: Clinical Profiles Associated With Concomitant Diagnoses With Chronic Overlapping Pain Conditions

ACR Open Rheumatol. 2022 Oct;4(10):890-896. doi: 10.1002/acr2.11488. Epub 2022 Jul 25.


Objective: The chronification of pain is heterogeneous in rheumatology. Chronic overlapping pain conditions (COPCs) such as fibromyalgia, endometriosis, migraine, and back pain may co-occur with one another and in rheumatic diseases. We describe the sociodemographic and clinical profiles associated with concomitant COPCs among patients with rheumatic diseases.

Methods: We retrospectively identified patients visiting rheumatology clinics at a single institution from 2010 to 2020 for five common rheumatic conditions: psoriatic arthritis (PsA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Sjögren syndrome (SjS), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and systemic sclerosis (SSc). We compared sociodemographic, clinical, and lifestyle factors by rheumatic condition and by COPC status. We also report sex-stratified diagnosis of COPCs. The primary outcome was diagnostic validation of one or more COPCs.

Results: We identified 5992 rheumatology patients: 846 with PsA, 2605 with RA, 956 with SjS, 975 with SLE, and 610 with SSc. Approximately 36-62% of patients had a concomitant COPC diagnosis. Patients with SjS had the highest prevalence (62%). Diagnosis of one or more COPCs was highest among Black patients and lowest among Asian patients. Patients using public insurance had a higher prevalence of one or more COPCs compared with those with private insurance. Patients with one or more COPCs had more depression and anxiety and more frequent emergency department visits, surgeries, and hospitalizations.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that COPCs are strikingly common among patients with rheumatic disease and are associated with lower quality of life and greater health care needs. Future research may elucidate drivers of chronic pain and how to best address the unique analgesic needs of this multimorbid population.