Vegetative and functional symptoms are, besides pain and tenderness of tender points, considered as additional information for the diagnosis of fibromyalgia (FM). In clinical trials, vegetative and functional symptoms have been included for selection of patients (e.g. sleep disturbances) and as secondary outcome parameters. Despite the relevance of these symptoms, no validated method is currently available but symptom lists are ad hoc developed by investigators. In this manuscript, data from a published double blind, randomised study are re-analysed which compared oral therapy over 10 days with 5mg, 10mg, and 15mg to placebo in FM patients. This study applied a list of 17 vegetative and functional symptoms, which had to be scored by the patients by use of a 4-point severity scale (0 = none to 3 = severe). Factor analysis of the baseline data from 195 patients suggested to separate 6 sub-scales: Cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, psychiatric (sleep disturbance), nervous, autonomic system, and general disorders. Sleep disturbances, general symptoms (morning stiffness, fatigue) and autonomic symptoms (cold extremities, hyperhidrosis) were most severe in intensity. Analysis of sensitivity for treatment effects made use of differences between placebo and 5 mg tropisetron in changes between baseline and final assessment of the tropisetron trial. While, on the item level, differences in favour of tropisetron could only be demonstrated for sleep disorders, on the sub-scale level, also favourable effects of tropisetron could be shown for cardiovascular and nervous system complaints and, as a tendency, for general symptoms. On the other side, the sub-scale score of gastrointestinal symptoms worsened under tropisetron whilst it improved under placebo which effect was due to side effects of the active treatment.
It is concluded that symptom clusters like sub-scales of a list of vegetative and functional symptoms will be more suitable for diagnostic purposes and evaluation of treatment outcome of clinical trials. Further research is urgently required which addresses the development of a FM-specific scale to assess vegetative and functional symptoms.