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Rizzoli-coordinated study reveals links between COVID-19 and fibromyalgia

October 11th, 2021

A study coordinated by the Medicine and Rheumatology Unit of the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute, directed by Professor Riccardo Meliconi, with Professor Francesco Ursini, Associate Professor of Rheumatology at the Institute, as first author, was recently published in the journal of the scientific society that brings together rheumatologists from all over Europe (RMD Open: Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases).

The aim of the research was to evaluate the potential role of COVID-19 as a predisposing factor in the development of fibromyalgia, as the researchers noted the increasing influx of patients to rheumatology clinics who, after contracting COVID-19 disease, complained of joint symptoms including pain, swelling and stiffness.
Fibromyalgia is a common rheumatological syndrome in the population and is characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain along with many other symptoms such as chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal disorders or cognitive impairments (memory, concentration).

"In our study, thanks to a survey of over 600 people with long-term sequelae of a symptomatic COVID-19 infection (what is known as long-COVID or post-COVID-19 syndrome), we observed for the first time in the world that around 30% of patients show symptoms compatible with the diagnosis of fibromyalgia even six months or more after the acute infection has healed.” Prof. Francesco Ursini says.

"Interestingly, the main risk factors for developing the “FibroCOVID” syndrome include male gender and obesity. While obesity is a known predisposing factor for fibromyalgia and musculoskeletal diseases in general, the male sex is generally less affected by this condition."

Prof. Riccardo Meliconi (on the left) and Prof. Francesco Ursini

"This apparently surprising finding actually agrees with the established tendency to develop more severe forms of COVID-19 in male subjects" Prof. Riccardo Meliconi points out. “Therefore, in our interpretation, the development of FibroCOVID could be linked to particularly severe forms of COVID-19 affecting the musculoskeletal system, the nervous system and the immune system for many months after the primary infection has healed, generating the painful symptoms."

Ursini continues: “Our study confirms what rheumatologists all over the world are experiencing every day in their surgeries: a significant increase in the number of cases of fibromyalgia, a disease for which, unfortunately, there are still few treatment options. Our aim in the near future will be to follow these patients over time to assess whether the course of the disease is self-limiting, as it is usually in post-viral diseases, or whether it tends to become chronic as in primary fibromyalgia. Furthermore, we plan to start a rehabilitation programme dedicated to these patients, based on adapted physical activity techniques, in collaboration with the research group coordinated by Professor Maria Grazia Benedetti, director of the Functional Recovery and Rehabilitation Unit at the Rizzoli Institute".

The study (to which contributed the prestigious Italian rheumatology centres: University of L'Aquila, University Biomedical Campus of Rome, University of Turin) represents a further piece of the picture that the Rizzoli rheumatology is contributing to outline since the beginning of the pandemic, thanks to the collaboration with a large group of researchers coordinated by Prof. Clodoveo Ferri (former professor of rheumatology at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia) on the association between COVID-19 and rheumatological diseases.

Here is the link to the study.


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