Women veterans, a population at risk for fibromyalgia: The associations between fibromyalgia, symptoms, and quality of life

Rita F. D’Aoust, Alicia Gill Rossiter, Amanda Elliott, Ming Ji, Cecile Lengacher, Maureen Groer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: The Institute of Federal Health Care recently published an executive summary from a round table discussion indicating that active duty and retired female military personnel are at high risk for adverse health outcomes unique to military service including complications related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), unreported sexual trauma, and musculoskeletal problems. In 2008, the Institute of Medicine began to review, evaluate, and summarize the literature on health outcomes in Gulf War-deployed and found sufficient evidence of a causal relationship with PTSD and suggestive evidence of an association with fibromyalgia (FM). This study examines the prevalence and impact of FM in women veterans and to explore the association between other comorbidities to improve risk differentiation for treatment and improve outcomes. Methods: This study is designed as a nested, cross-sectional study within a larger project funded by the U.S. Army at the University of South Florida, College of Nursing entitled “Nursing Health Initiative for Empowering Women Veterans.” A sample of 76 participants completed a battery of study instruments related to physical and psychological stressors. Findings: Over half of the sample had a positive FM screening score (56.68%) although only 14.42% were deployed to the Middle East. More than 70% of participants reported harassment in life in the military and 32.9% reported sexual assault while in the military. Results of the 1-way analysis of variances find that there was a significant association of FM with the psychological symptoms of stress, depression, and PTSD. There was a significant association of FM with quality of life and sleep difficulty. Discussion, Impact, and Recommendations: The results from this pilot study suggest there is a significant relationship between FM and the psychological symptoms of depression and PTSD. Nearly two-thirds of these women screened positive for depressive symptoms and just over one-quarter of participants had symptoms indicative of PTSD. Only a small proportion of women veterans in this study were deployed (14.42%) and this suggests that a trigger or risk factor other than deployment or combat may contribute to the development of FM and mental health symptomology. To focus on the complex interrelationships between pain, fatigue, sleep, and depression, a follow-up study with a larger sample powered for more complex statistical analyses is warranted. Additional analyses in this study reveal that over half of women veterans who reported military sexual trauma (MST) while in the military, screened positive for FM. Although our analyses did not reveal there to be a significant effect between FM and MST, it should be considered as a potential risk factor for FM as MST can be a precursor for PTSD. Women veterans who present with FM should be screened for MST as sexual trauma may not be disclosed. Understanding how many women veterans are affected with FM and the relationship with PTSD, MST, stress, depression, and sleep can improve screening and treatment to improve quality of life. This will also inform decision-making about how best to design and implement interventions, programs, and policies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e1828-e1835
JournalMilitary medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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