Depression and Fibromyalgia Often Cooccur

The fact that fibromyalgia and depression often occur at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean they’re linked. Or does it? Researchers are looking into a possible genetic connection between a whole host of seemingly unrelated conditions because they occur together so frequently. If you have fibromyalgia, there’s a 40% chance that you will also experience depression at the same time. If you’re experiencing fibromyalgia only, there’s a 90% chance that at some point in your lifetime, you had or will have symptoms of depression. 62% to 86% of the time, the symptoms of depression are severe enough to warrant the diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD)1.


Coincidence or Causal Link?

Another interesting coincidence is that the medications used to treat depression also seem to be effective for fibromyalgia. Long classified as mood disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder are all part of the spectrum of affective disorders. Researchers now believe that fibromyalgia and a handful of other medical conditions may be genetically related to the affective disorders2. If this research is proven, then the affective disorder spectrum would include medical as well as psychiatric disorders. This would be a game changer for both the medical and psychiatric communities, who haven’t always played well together in the past.


Affective Spectrum Disorders

These psychiatric and medical conditions tend to respond positively to the same medications, a potential indicator that they are genetically related, according to scientists1,2:

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior

Bipolar Disorder – mood disorder marked by periods of depression, mania and normal mood

Bulimia Nervosa – eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by vomiting or self-starvation

Cataplexy – sudden feeling of weakness and loss of voluntary muscle tone

Dysthymic Disorder – mild, long-term depression

Fibromyalgia – chronic, widespread pain and fatigue

Generalized Anxiety Disorder – persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things

Irritable Bowel Syndrome – large intestine disorder characterized by cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation

Major Depressive Disorder – persistent and intense feelings of sadness for an extended period of time

Migraine – severe head pain often accompanied by sensitivity to light, sound, or smells

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD) – group of anxiety disorders causing unwanted thoughts or obsessions that drive compulsive actions, including kleptomania

Panic Disorder – sudden attacks of intense fear with palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling that something bad is about to happen

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder – an anxiety disorder caused by a traumatic experience, causing feelings of distress, fear, helplessness, guilt, shame, or anger

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – disabling form of premenstrual syndrome causing extreme mood shifts, bloating, tender breasts, fatigue, and changes in sleep and eating habits

Social Phobia – extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by other people


Warning from My Psychotherapist

When my psychotherapist was wrapping up our final few sessions in 2010, he recommended that I seek out practitioners in the CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) arts, such as massage, acupuncture, reiki, and Ayurveda, to name a few. “A lot of people have fibromyalgia after being treated for major depression,” he warned.

I’ve often wondered if that statement became a self-fulfilling prophecy, or if it was a natural biological progression. It would make sense to me if they are genetically linked. My mother and her father both suffered through long periods of deep depression, and several other family members have reported having some of the other conditions listed above.

As I wrote in last week’s post, I climbed out of a deep depression in 2010. I was fortunate to have a psychotherapist who invested in me for five years while I worked on making the major life changes necessary for my healing. Not everyone finds a therapist like him, and not everyone can make such drastic changes. Next week, I’ll introduce you to a lovely woman who searched for decades before making the ultimate decision to end her pain, and her life as well.



  1. Richard H. Gracely, Marta Ceko, and M. Catherine Bushnell, “Fibromyalgia and Depression,” Pain Research and Treatment, vol. 2012, Article ID 486590, 9 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/486590
  2. I Hudson, James & Mangweth, Barbara & G Pope, Harrison & De Col, Christine & Hausmann, Armand & Gutweniger, Sarah & M Laird, Nan & Biebl, Wilfried & T Tsuang, Ming. (2003). Family Study of Affective Spectrum Disorder. Archives of general psychiatry. 60. 170-7. 10.1001/archpsyc.60.2.170.