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Pain Inhibition Is Deficient in Chronic Widespread Pain but Normal in Major Depressive Disorder

J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(2):219-224
10.4088/JCP.08m04969blu

Background: Given the complex relationships between fibromyalgia and major depressive disorder (MDD), it has been suggested that fibromyalgia is a “masked” MDD. In experimental settings, fibromyalgia is associated with lowered pain thresholds (hyperalgesia) and deficient pain inhibition. Similarly, it has been recently proposed that the proneness of patients with MDD to develop chronic pain results from a deficit in pain inhibition. This cross-sectional study measured experimentally induced pain perception and inhibition in patients with MDD and patients with fibromyalgia.

Method: Participants were 29 patients with fibromyalgia (American College of Rheumatology criteria), 26 patients with MDD (DSM-IV criteria), and 40 healthy controls who did not differ in age, sex, or the presence or absence of a menstrual cycle. Data were collected between June 2007 and May 2008. Thermal stimuli were used to measure pain thresholds. Pain inhibition was elicited using a tonic thermal test (Peltier thermode) administered before and after activation of the diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNIC) by means of a cold pressor test.

Results: Thermal pain thresholds were higher in healthy controls compared to patients with MDD and patients with fibromyalgia. Pain ratings during the cold pressor test were lower in healthy controls and patients with MDD relative to patients with fibromyalgia. Finally, DNIC efficacy was stronger in healthy controls compared to patients with fibromyalgia, while no significant differences were found between healthy controls and patients with MDD.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that (1) fibromyalgia and MDD are both associated with signs of hyperalgesia, (2) hyperalgesia is more pronounced in fibromyalgia, and (3) the deficit of pain inhibition is specific to fibromyalgia. As such, these results suggest that there is an overlap between fibromyalgia and MDD, but that fibromyalgia can be distinguished from MDD in terms of DNIC efficacy.

J Clin Psychiatry

Submitted: December 19, 2008; accepted September 8, 2009.

Online ahead of print: August 10, 2010 (doi:10.4088/JCP.08m04969blu).

Corresponding author: Serge Marchand, PhD, Université de Sherbrooke, Faculté de Médecine, Axe Douleur CRC-CHUS, 3001 12e Avenue Nord, Sherbrooke, Canada J1H 5N4 (serge.marchand@usherbrooke.ca).