We aimed to review how personality characteristics contribute to the onset, maintenance or modulation of fibromyalgia.
The databases Medline and PsychINFO were examined from 1967 to 2012 to identify studies that investigated associations between fibromyalgia and personality. Search terms included fibromyalgia and personality, trait psychology, characteristics and individual differences.
Numerous studies indicate that patients with fibromyalgia experience psychological distress. Various instruments have been used to evaluate distress and related psychological domains, such as anxiety or depression, in fibromyalgia. In many cases, these same instruments have been used to study personality characteristics in fibromyalgia with a subsequent blurring of cause and effect between personality and psychological distress. In addition, the symptoms of fibromyalgia may change pre-illness personality characteristics themselves. These issues make it difficult to identify specific personality characteristics that might influence the fibromyalgia process. Despite this inherent problem with the methodologies used in the studies that make up this literature review, or perhaps because of it, we found no defined personality profile specific to fibromyalgia. However, many patients with fibromyalgia do show personality characteristics that facilitate psychological responses to stressful situations, such as catastrophising or poor coping techniques, and these in turn associate with mechanisms contributing to fibromyalgia.
No specific fibromyalgia personality is defined but it is proposed that personality is an important filter that modulates a person’s response to psychological stressors. Certain personalities may facilitate translation of these stressors to physiological responses driving the fibromyalgia mechanism.