Physical and emotional stress and altered reactivity of the autonomic psychophysiological responses in patients with Fibromyalgia Syndrome

Journal: Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Volume 61, Issue 5, November 2006, pp. 671-679. Available online November 1. Authors and affiliations: Kati Thieme, Ulrike Rose, Thomas Pinkpank, Claudia Spies, Dennis C. Turk, Herta Flor. Department of Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Heidelberg, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany; Department of Anesthesiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA. [E-mail: Kati.Thieme@zi-mannheim.de] PMID: 17084146

Physical and emotional stress and altered reactivity of the autonomic nervous system have been implicated in the development and maintenance of Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS). This study investigated blood pressure, heart rate (HR), skin conductance levels (SCL), and surface electromyograms (EMG) from the trapezius muscle in 30 FMS patients and 30 age- and sex-matched healthy controls (HCs). All measures were continuously recorded during baseline (BL), social conflict, mental arithmetic, and relaxation tasks.

The FMS patients showed significantly higher stress ratings and self-reported stress responses. Baseline EMG levels were significantly lower, and BL HR was significantly elevated. During both stress tasks, HR reactivity was significantly lower, and SCL reactivity was significantly higher in the FMS group.

This pattern of low BL muscle tension and high BL HR, along with low HR and high SCL reactivity to stress, is discrepant to other chronic pain syndromes and suggests unique psychophysiological features associated with FMS. Several potential mechanisms for these psychophysiological responses are discussed.

Keywords: Fibromyalgia syndrome; Psychophysiology; Electromyography; Stress-reactivity

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