Fibromyalgia and Stress

Stress has been known to be deeply associated with several conditions including fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a widespread spontaneous pain syndrome that affects millions worldwide.

Stress is commonly defined as a threat to the homeostasis, stability or balance in an organism.

Stress could be physical (biological stress), or emotional (psychosocial stress).

What happens when an organism faces stress?

Whenever an organism faces stress, the genetically determined neuronal, hormonal and behavioural responses are activated that aim to restore the original state or balance.

Stress response is controlled by two interconnected systems:-

  • locus coeruleus-norepinephrin (LC-NE) axis
  • hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis

These two axes are stimulated by corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) secreted by the hypothalamus, the amygdala, and other brain structures.

The LC-NE axis mainly mediates the acute or immediate stress response while preparing the organism for ‘fight or flight’. The HPA axis deals with long term stressors.

Stress and pain response

Stress is deeply connected to pain and several players in this phenomenon include CRH, cortisol and catecholamines that act along with the immune system as well as the endogenous opioid system that modulate pain.

In the brain there are endogenous or naturally occurring chemicals or opioids that modulate pain sensation and pain response.

Immediate stress response thus produces alleviation of pain but chronic stress may have the opposite effect, both mediated by CRH.

As the sympathetic activity is diminished, the pain sensitivity rises. This is one of the keystones in the pathology of fibromyalgia.

Stress also leads to neuroinflammation and neuroimmune activation involving pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1, IL-6 and TNF. These are all mediators of pain.

Physical and psychosocial stress and fibromyalgia

Studies have shown that physical stress such as painful injury, chronic physical overuse, infections etc. could lead to development of fibromyalgia.

Other conditions that are included in the affective spectrum disorder including major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are also associated with stress and fibromyalgia.

Anxiety for example may play a perpetuating role in fibromyalgia by increasing irritability, muscle tension, pain-related fear – avoidance behaviour, higher pain intensity, more tender points, more fatigue and disability.

Alteration of the axes

Alteration of the sympathetic nervous system has been noted in the pathology of fibromyalgia. This could be the result of LC-NE axes under activity that blunts the sympathetic response. This results in drop in blood pressure and decreased neuropeptide Y.

The HPA axis is also altered in fibromyalgia. These patients have a delayed ACTH plasma peak when stimulated by CRH with normal cortisol levels.

Results from studies reveal that fibromyalgia patients have an impaired ability to activate the HPA axis especially at the pituitary level that leads to an inadequate cortisol response to stress or normal activities of daily living.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Mandal, Ananya. (2023, January 23). Fibromyalgia and Stress. News-Medical. Retrieved on March 26, 2023 from

  • MLA

    Mandal, Ananya. "Fibromyalgia and Stress". News-Medical. 26 March 2023. <>.

  • Chicago

    Mandal, Ananya. "Fibromyalgia and Stress". News-Medical. (accessed March 26, 2023).

  • Harvard

    Mandal, Ananya. 2023. Fibromyalgia and Stress. News-Medical, viewed 26 March 2023,


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment
You might also like...
A cancer patient who had SARS-CoV-2 for over eight months