A new survey of fibromyalgia patients and physicians shows that the condition results in poor quality of life, poses a financial burden, a situation which is exacerbated by a lack of physician education.

The survey results (taken from 800 patients and 1,622 physicians) were released by the European Network of Fibromyalgia Associations (ENFA), a coalition of patient advocacy organizations, and Pfizer, and include findings from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Mexico and South Korea. Patients with fibromyalgia say they experience six to 11 symptoms on average, including chronic widespread pain, sleep disturbance, fatigue and sensitivity to touch.

Many of the symptoms are described as extremely or very disruptive to the overall quality of their lives, affecting physical mobility, overall mood, concentration and motivation. This leads to missed work days and across all European countries surveyed, at least one in five patients said they have been unable to work and earn an income. Furthermore, one-third of patients in Spain, claim they lost their jobs due to fibromyalgia.

Patients waited an average of five months (UK) to 1.5 years (Mexico) to consult a physician about their symptoms because they thought the symptoms would go away or they could manage them on their own. Once they consulted a physician, it can take 1.9 to 2.7 years and between two and four doctors to receive an accurate diagnosis.

Contributing to the lengthy process of diagnosis may be “physicians' lack of confidence in diagnosing fibromyalgia”, the report claims. Interestingly, this problem was not exclusive to primary care physicians since specialists surveyed also report significant difficulties diagnosing the problem. Between 16% (Mexico) and 71% (Korea) of doctors surveyed say they are not very or not at all confident in recognising symptoms of fibromyalgia and 25% (Mexico) and 73% (Korea) also claim they are not very or not at all confident in their ability to differentiate symptoms of fibromyalgia from other conditions.

Ernest Choy at King's College, London, said that the findings are worrying and “it is important that the medical community and policymakers now take the necessary steps to provide physicians with the education and training they need to properly and confidently manage patients with fibromyalgia." Robert Boelhouwer, president of ENFA, added that the survey exposes “the challenges facing people living with fibromyalgia and validate the tremendous impact of the condition on their lives”.