Study Shows Alcohol May Reduce Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Based on previous studies reporting the positive effects of alcohol on chronic pain and rheumatoid arthritis, researchers at the Mayo Clinic decided to examine the association between alcohol consumption and symptom severity and quality of life (QOL) in patients with fibromyalgia.
Study Design and Results
The researchers gathered data on self-reported alcohol consumption from 946 fibromyalgia patients,. Participants were grouped by their level of alcohol consumption (number of drinks per week):
None - 546
Low (less than or equal to 3 drinks/week) - 338
Moderate (from 3 to 7 drinks/week) - 31
Heavy (more than 7 drinks/week) - 31
Assessment tools used to evaluate participants were the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) and the Short Form-36 Health Survey (SF-36). As the name suggests, the FIQ is used to measure how much impact fibromyalgia is having on a patient’s life. The SF-36 is a self-administered questionnaire that measures multiple domains of fibromyalgia symptoms and functional impairment, and it contains 20 questions that assess the following areas: physical functioning, overall well-being in the previous week, days of work missed, and symptoms of pain, fatigue, morning tiredness, stiffness, job difficulty, anxiety, and depression.
The researchers found that the moderate and low alcohol drinkers had lower severity of fibromyalgia symptoms and better physical quality of life than nondrinkers. Notably, the same association did not apply to the heavy drinkers. Although the heavy drinkers had better physical-functioning scores than nondrinkers, they did not have an improved quality of life.
Two facts in this study jumped out at me:
58% of the study participants did not drink alcohol at all, and
The 3% rate of heavy drinkers in the study is significantly lower than the 7% rate for U.S. women in general.
The study authors speculated that the latter "might be related to
decreased social functioning due to chronic pain and therefore, fewer occasions to drink alcohol socially;
self-perceived chronic health concerns and lower QOL, leading to different drinking habits;
concerns of alcohol interacting with medications such as sedatives or narcotics, and
possible under-reporting of drinking."
I contend there is a fifth possible reason for the low rate of drinkers which was not mentioned. That is the fact that many people with fibromyalgia report having an undesirable reaction to alcohol. For more information about this phenomenon, read "Fibromyalgia and Alcohol Don’t Mix."
Common complaints of FM and ME/CFS patients who have negative reactions to alcohol include increased nausea, increased fatigue, sleep disturbance and exacerbated hangovers. Some FM patients say even one drink can trigger a flare of symptoms that may last for days or even weeks.
Caution Alert: Since most FM patients take prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs, it is important to remember that alcohol interacts with many medications, particularly pain relievers. Therefore, it is essential that you check with your doctor or pharmacist before consuming alcohol to find out if it’s compatible with the medications you take.
Kim CH, et al. "Association between alcohol consumption and symptom severity and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia." Arthritis Research & Therapy. 2013, 15:R42.
Karen is the Co-Founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.