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Factsheet – Fibromyalgia
- What is fibromyalgia?
- How does fibromyalgia affect an individual?
- Legal duties
- Suggested adjustments
- Further information
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition with widespread pain being the most common symptom.
It is thought to affect one in 20 people. Women are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia than men.
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but changes to the levels of certain chemicals in the brain are suspected. Deviations in the ways that the central nervous system processes pain messages are also thought to be involved. Genetics is another possibility in some cases.
The most commonly linked triggers include:
- viral infections
- being in an abusive relationship
- emotional trauma such as the death of someone close or a relationship breakdown.
How does fibromyalgia affect an individual?
- Widespread pain – this can be aches, stiffness, burning sensations or sharp pains. Some people are also more sensitive to pain than the average person.
- Fatigue – this can be due to poor quality sleep, possibly due to other fibromyalgia symptoms. The fatigue can range from mild to severe and may come on suddenly.
- Headaches – these may be due to the muscle tension related to pain and stiffness. Migraines may also occur.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is common for people with fibromyalgia.
- Cognitive disturbances or ‘fibro-fog’ – this can include difficulty learning or remembering things, problems with concentration, and word retrieval.
- Clumsiness and dizziness.
- Increased sensitivity to environmental factors such as noise, light, temperature, touch and air quality.
- Mental ill-health – anxiety and depression are commonly associated conditions experienced by people who have fibromyalgia.
Potential impact on work
Fibromyalgia can range from mild to severe, and it will be different for each individual. It can also fluctuate in severity for a person.
There may be times when the employee may have to take time off work or work from home due to their symptoms or benefit from temporary additional adjustments.
The physical effects of the condition (including pain, restricted mobility or fatigue) may impact an individual’s ability to carry out physical tasks such as lifting objects or moving around. They can also impact an individual’s ability to carry out other tasks, for example affecting their ability to concentrate, sit comfortably at their desk or contribute in meetings.
People with fibromyalgia are usually very proactive in managing their condition, and so the overall impact on work can be slight for many people.
The Equality Act 2010
In the UK, employers have duties to:
- prevent discrimination, and
- provide reasonable adjustments
for their disabled employees. This means that it is unlawful for employers to treat applicants, job candidates and employees unfavourably because of their disability.
The Equality Act also requires employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for their disabled employees.
For more information, see our ‘Briefing – Adjustments in employment’.
The symptoms, triggers and severity of fibromyalgia will vary from person to person, and so any proposed adjustments should be discussed and agree upon with the employee. Many employees are highly proactive in managing their condition and may require few if any adjustments.
- A workstation assessment and training on best practice should be carried out. This should reduce unnecessary pain, stiffness, and fatigue by ensuring an optimal ergonomic posture and regular position change.
- Assistive software and equipment such as dictation equipment, use of inbuilt accessibility features such as text to speech, screen masking to reduce glare can all be beneficial. Alternative mice and keyboards may help reduce any physical discomfort.
- Pacing of hours, work and breaks can be very helpful in reducing fatigue.
- Time allowances and private space to carry out any exercises or relaxation techniques to assist with symptom management.
- Flexibility on working hours and locations. If a person experiences significant pain in the mornings, a later start may be helpful. Working from home, especially on days when symptoms are worse, can also be beneficial in reducing pain and fatigue and promoting recovery.
- Discuss ways to keep known triggers for the person to a minimum.
- People with fibromyalgia may require time off work to attend appointments related to their condition, such as routine check-ups or treatment appointments.
- Sometimes a person may need to take time off work due to the severity of their symptoms. A graded return to work and duties can be helpful in these situations.
It is best practice to have policies and procedures that distinguish between sickness absence taken for a reason relating to a disability and general sickness absence. Disabled employees must not be treated less favourably than their colleagues for a reason relating to their disability.
For more information on suggested adjustments, specific barriers for fibromyalgia and the law, please see our other resources in the Knowledge Hub.
For more detailed information and advice about a specific situation, contact the Advice Service: Tel:+44-20-7403-3020 |Textphone: +44-20-7403-0040
Fibromyalgia Action UK
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