Objectives: Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome, is often accompanied by psychological distress and increased basal sympathetic tone. In a previous report it was shown that mindfulness-based stress-reduction (MBSR) [aka meditation] reduced depressive symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia with gains maintained at two months follow-up (“Mindfulness meditation alleviates depressive symptoms in women with Fibromyalgia: Results of a randomized clinical trial,” Sephton, et al., Arthritis & Rheumatism, Jan 31, 2007).
This second study explores the effects of MBSR on basal sympathetic (SNS) activation among women with fibromyalgia. [Note: the sympathetic nervous system has an active ‘pushing’ function when activated by stress to support ‘fight or flight.’ It is balanced with the relaxing function of the parasympathetic nervous system. See illustration (scroll down).]
Methods: Participants (n = 24) responded to a television news appearance, newspaper, and radio advertisements. Effects on anxiety, depressive symptoms, and SNS activation measures were tested before and after MBSR using a within-subjects design.
Results: The MBSR treatment significantly reduced basal electrodermal (skin conductance level; SCL) activity (t = 3.298, p = .005) and SCL activity during meditation (t = 4.389, p = .001), consistent with reduced SNS activation. [This test determines sympathetic system excitement.]
Conclusions: In this small sample, basal SNS activity was reduced following MBSR treatment. Future studies should assess how MBSR may help reduce negative psychological symptoms and attenuate SNS activation in fibromyalgia. Further clarification of psychological and physiological responses associated with fibromyalgia may lead to more beneficial treatment.
Source: Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, Mar 10, 2009. PMID: 19277851, by Lush E, Salmon P, Floyd A, Studts JL, Weissbecker I, Sephton SE. Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.