Richard G. Petty, MD

Fibromyalgia and Childhood Abuse

There is a small and growing literature about a link between fibromyalgia and a history of abuse, primarily in childhood or early adolescence.

A new study has shown that people with fibromyalgia who had experienced physical abuse in childhood did not have the normal daily fluctuations in the stress hormone cortisol. They also had sudden surges in the hormone as soon as they were woken up, which can be a good stressor. People who had been sexually abused also had this odd cortisol response on being awakened. These findings suggest that severe traumatic experiences in childhood may be a factor in causing hormonal disturbances in people suffering from fibromyalgia. This adds to the growing body of evidence that in women having pain early in the day, there is a high likelihood that the entire stress hormone system does not function normally.

Colleagues from the Department of Psychiatry, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey have reported that women who have been raped are ten times more likely to experience chronic pelvic pain as well as generalized pain.

Another study has found close correlations between childhood abuse and the subsequent development of chronic pain. The link between rape and the subsequent development of fibromyalgia seems to be mediated by chronic stress, in the form of posttraumatic stress disorder.

What this means is that professionals need to consider this:

  1. It is important careful to inquire about any history of past or present abuse or other severe trauma
  2. That empathy and constructive validation of disease and suffering can be very helpful
  3. That dysfunctional pain behaviors and personality traits may be a consequence of abuse together with a lack of resilience
  4. That multidisciplinary treatments including psychotherapy may be the best approach to helping people. Using the methods of Integrated Medicine is often far better than reliance on potentially habit-forming medications.

If we remember that there is more and more evidence of inflammation and other physical problems in fibromyalgia, and that stress and maltreatment in early life can alter the structure and function of specific regions of the brain, what this all shows us is that abuse in childhood can have a long term impact on the way in which both the body and the brain functions.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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