Published:  2012-08

Dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system and its association with the presence and intensity of chronic widespread pain

Authors:  Ansam Barakat, Nicole Vogelzangs, Carmilla M. M. Licht, Rinie Geenen, Gary J. MacFarlane, Eco J. C. de Geus, Johannes H. Smit, Brenda W. J. H. Penninx, Joost Dekker

Tags:  Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Autonomic Nervous System Diseases, Chronic Pain, Cohort Studies, Cross-Sectional Studies, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Pain Measurement, Parasympathetic Nervous System, Regression Analysis, Severity of Illness Index, Young Adult

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OBJECTIVE: To test the hypotheses that dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is associated with the presence of chronic widespread pain (CWP), and that dysregulation of the ANS is associated with higher pain intensity in CWP.
METHODS: Cross-sectional data were obtained from 1,574 subjects (healthy controls as well as persons with depressive and anxiety disorders) participating in The Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety. The Chronic Pain Grade was used to assess pain intensity and pain-related disability. Heart rate (HR), SD of the normal-to-normal interval (SDNN), the preejection period (PEP), and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) were used to assess the ANS. Logistic regression analyses and linear regression analyses were conducted with adjustment for potential confounders.
RESULTS: No differences in HR, PEP, SDNN, or RSA values were found between CWP subjects and controls after adjustment for confounders. However, lower SDNN and lower RSA were associated with higher pain intensity in subjects with CWP.
CONCLUSION: Lower parasympathetic activity, as assessed with SDNN and RSA, is associated with higher pain intensity in subjects with CWP. This large and well-controlled study does not provide evidence for an association between dysregulation of the ANS and the presence of CWP.