Women are four to eight times more likely to be affected by fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). A lack of cortisol, potentially due to an adrenocortical deficit, is postulated in FMS.
The cause of such adrenal insufficiency is unknown. It could be assumed that stress exposure during critical periods contributes to vulnerability for FMS.
These critical periods might include prenatal periods in which adversities may lead to an impaired development of the adrenal cortex, especially in females.
More than 50% of FMS patients report major life events before the onset of the disease. Possibly due to adrenal insufficiency they may not be able to dampen their stress response by secreting sufficient glucocorticoids. Thus, stress mediators, such as catecholamines and pro-inflammatory cytokines, may be disinhibited and affect brain function.
This might result in an enhanced responsiveness to external and internal pain- and fatigue-eliciting stimuli.
In a study with female FMS patients (N= 93):
• Those patients with a shorter gestational length (less than 38 weeks) showed a lower cortisol awakening response (CAR) than FMS subjects with a gestational length more than 38 weeks (F((3,31))= 2.94, P= 0.038).
• Additionally, more than 70% reported severe psychological stress alone or in combination with other factors at disease onset.
Source: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Dec 2008;1148:446-55. PMID: 19120140, by Klingmann PO, Kugler I, Steffke TS, Bellingrath S, Kudielka BM, Hellhammer DH. Center for Psychobiological and Psychosomatic Research (FPP), University of Trier, Trier, Germany. [E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]