Negative social comparisons, in which patients negatively compare themselves to others and express negative emotions, could contribute to the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms, a Canadian study suggests.
The findings support the theory that both biological and psychosocial factors trigger excessive pain signaling in fibromyalgia, and suggest that a combination of biological and psychosocial interventions may be needed to treat the condition, researchers argued.
The study was published in the journal Plos One in an article titled, “Personal relative deprivation associated with functional disorders via stress: An examination of fibromyalgia and gastrointestinal symptoms.”
Personal relative deprivation is a scientific term describing when people compare themselves to others in a negative way, resulting in negative emotions. Research shows that this has a negative impact on both physical and mental health.
A research team at the University of Regina, in Canada, explored whether these processes could contribute to the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms. The study also included patients with gastrointestinal symptoms.
Data showed that scores on a deprivation assessment could predict scores on a fibromyalgia impact questionnaire beyond what could be explained using demographic measures, including age, education, depression, and anxiety.
Using a statistical analysis that indicates the order of cause and effect, the team showed that the impact of negative social comparison on fibromyalgia was, at least in part, mediated by stress. Those who reported having a formal fibromyalgia diagnosis scored higher on both the negative social comparison assessment and the fibromyalgia impact questionnaire than those without a diagnosis.
Results were similar in people with gastrointestinal symptoms, as stress helped explain the link between social comparisons and symptoms.
The study adds to other current research showing that psychological and psychosocial factors may have a profound effect on physical processes in the body.
Researchers acknowledged that the study has limitations, as participants were enrolled online without a clinical examination. This likely resulted in a younger and more well-educated patient sample. It was also impossible for researchers to assess bodily causes of the disease.
Researchers said these processes might only impact disease in a subtype of fibromyalgia patients. Larger studies are needed to understand whether patients who score high on negative social comparison assessments would benefit from psychosocial interventions.