Around 1 in 8 patients with axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) also meet criteria for fibromyalgia and such patients have considerable unmet need. Identifying effective therapy is important but to what extent fibromyalgia-like symptoms relate to axSpA disease severity has not been established. The aim of the current analysis was to determine whether distinct clusters of axSpA patients exist and if so to determine a) whether they differ in terms of prevalence of fibromyalgia and b) the features of patients in clusters with high prevalence.
The British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register (BSRBR-AS) recruited axSpA patients from 83 centres 2012–2017. Clinical data, and information from patients was collected (including research criteria for fibromyalgia). Cluster analysis was undertaken using split samples for development and validation both in the whole population and the sub-group which met fibromyalgia criteria.
One thousand three hundred thirty-eight participants were included of whom 23% met research criteria for fibromyalgia. Four clusters were identified. Two exhibited very high disease activity, one which was primarily axial (n = 347) and a smaller cluster (n = 32) with axial and peripheral disease, and in both groups more than half of members met criteria for fibromyalgia. The remaining two clusters (n = 437, n = 462) had overall less severe disease however the one which showed greater disease activity and poorer quality of life had a higher proportion meeting fibromyalgia criteria (16% v. 4%). Within those meeting fibromyalgia criteria there were three clusters. The two main groups were defined by level of symptom severity with a smaller third cluster noted to have high average swollen and tender joint counts and high levels of comorbidity.
The major feature defining clusters with a high proportion of persons meeting criteria for fibromyalgia is high axSpA disease activity although clusters with features of fibromyalgia in the absence of high disease activity also show moderately high prevalence. Management may be most successful with pharmacologic therapy to target inflammation but enhanced by the concurrent use of non-pharmacologic therapy in such patients.