OBJECTIVE: Fatigue is a defining characteristic and one of the most debilitating features of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). The mechanisms underlying different dimensions of fatigue in FMS remain unclear. The aim of the current study was to test whether stress-related biological processes and physical activity modulate fatigue experience.
Using an ambulatory assessment design, 26 female FMS patients reported general, mental, and physical fatigue levels at six time points per day for 14 consecutive days. Salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase were analyzed as markers of neuroendocrine functioning. Participants wore wrist actigraphs for the assessment of physical activity.
Lower increases in cortisol after awakening predicted higher mean daily general and physical fatigue levels. Additionally, mean daily physical activity positively predicted next-day mean general fatigue. Levels of physical fatigue at a specific time point were positively associated with momentary cortisol levels. The increase in cortisol after awakening did not mediate the physical activity - fatigue relationship. There were no associations between alpha-amylase and fatigue.
Our findings imply that both changes in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity and physical activity contribute to variance in fatigue in the daily lives of patients with FMS. This study helps to paint a clearer picture of the biological and behavioral underpinnings of fatigue in FMS and highlight the necessity of interdisciplinary treatment approaches targeting biological, behavioral and psychological aspects of FMS.