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Living with the unexplained: Coping, distress, and depression among women with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and/or fibromyalgia compared to an autoimmune disorder

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By McInnis OA, Matheson K, Anisman H. • • February 12, 2014

By McInnis OA, Matheson K, Anisman H.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia are disabling conditions without objective diagnostic tests, clear-cut treatments, or established etiologies. Those with the disorders are viewed suspiciously, and claims of malingering are common, thus promoting further distress. It was hypothesized in the current study that levels of unsupportive social interactions and the coping styles used among those with CFS/fibromyalgia would be associated with perceived distress and depressive symptoms.

Women with CFS/fibromyalgia (n=39), in fact, reported higher depression scores, greater perceived distress and more frequent unsupportive relationships than healthy women (n=55), whereas those with a chronic, but medically accepted illness comprising an autoimmune disorder (lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis) (n=28), displayed intermediate scores. High problem-focused coping was associated with low levels of depression and perceived distress in those with an autoimmune condition. In contrast, although CFS/fibromyalgia was also accompanied by higher depression scores and higher perceived distress, this occurred irrespective of problem-focused coping.

It is suggested that because the veracity of ambiguous illnesses is often questioned, this might represent a potent stressor in women with such illnesses, and even coping methods typically thought to be useful in other conditions, are not associated with diminished distress among those with CFS/fibromyalgia.

Source: McInnis OA, Matheson K, Anisman H. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2014 Jan 30. [Epub ahead of print]

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