Fibromyalgia: a stress disorder? Piecing the biopsychosocial puzzle together

Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics
B Van Houdenhove, Ulrich T Egle

Abstract

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a controversial syndrome, characterised by persistent widespread pain, abnormal pain sensitivity and additional symptoms such as fatigue and sleep disturbance. The syndrome largely overlaps with other functional somatic disorders, particularly chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Although the exact aetiology and pathogenesis of FM are still unknown, it has been suggested that stress may play a key role in the syndrome. This article first reviews the function of the stress response system, placing special emphasis on the relationships between adverse life experiences, stress regulation and pain-processing mechanisms, and summarising the evidence for a possible aetiopathogenetic role of stress in FM. Finally, an integrative biopsychosocial model that conceptualizes FM as a stress disorder is proposed, and the clinical and research implications of the model are discussed.

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