NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Many adults suffer from chronic widespread body pain, which often hampers their work life, according to the results of a survey of a cross-section of Swedish adults.

Widespread pain including fibromyalgia syndrome — one of the most severe forms of widespread pain — has been variously defined in the literature as pain at more than three locations in the upper and lower half of the body, or pain in at least two sections of two opposite limbs and around the spine.

A third definition considers pain to be widespread when all of the following are present — pain in the left and right side of the body, pain above and below the waist and skeletal pain around the spine.

Among roughly 7,600 Swedish adults ages 18 to 74 who responded to a mailed pain survey, Dr. Bjorn Gerdle and colleagues from Linkoping University found that between 4.8 percent and 7.4 percent reported widespread pain, depending on the definition used.

Roughly 63 percent of those surveyed reported pain in at least one area of the body, most commonly in the upper back and lower back. Nearly one third of the population had pain in at least 3 out of 10 anatomical sites.

In the vast majority (90 percent to 94 percent), the pain was chronic, lasting more than three months, Gerdle’s group reports in the journal BioMedCentral Musculoskeletal Disorders.

The survey also confirms that widespread pain is significantly more common in women than in men and increases with age.

Importantly, Gerdle and colleagues say, chronic widespread pain had “prominent” negative effects on work status, often leading to a reduction in time on the job, especially among those with low annual income jobs.

SOURCE: BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, online July 15, 2008.