Stress during pregnancy may lead to increased risk of fibromyalgia for baby girls

From a Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh School of Med­i­cine Press Release about find­ings being pre­sent­ed at the Inter­na­tion­al Con­gress of Neu­roen­docrinol­o­gy June 19–22, 2006:

Stress dur­ing preg­nan­cy may put baby girls at lat­er risk for fibromyalgia

New research sug­gests girls who were born fol­low­ing preg­nan­cies that were encum­bered by stress­ful life events may be at greater risk for devel­op­ing fibromyal­gia lat­er in life. While lit­tle is known about the caus­es of fibromyal­gia, a con­di­tion affect­ing most­ly women and char­ac­ter­ized by extreme fatigue and wide­spread mus­cle pain, the stud­ies led by Dirk Hell­ham­mer, Ph.D., pro­fes­sor of psy­chobi­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tri­er, Ger­many, indi­cate “pre­na­tal pro­gram­ming” like­ly plays a role. Stress expe­ri­enced dur­ing preg­nan­cy can affect the devel­op­ment of the fetus’s adren­al gland, per­ma­nent­ly lim­it­ing its capac­i­ty for pro­duc­ing ade­quate amounts of the hor­mone cor­ti­sol, he reports.

Com­pared to 100 healthy female con­trol sub­jects, sig­nif­i­cant­ly more patients among the 93 women diag­nosed with fibromyal­gia report­ed their moth­ers had expe­ri­enced pro­found stress dur­ing preg­nan­cy, such as the loss of a part­ner, phys­i­cal or emo­tion­al trau­ma or lack of social sup­port. More­over, of these patients born of such preg­nan­cies, only the women had “blunt­ed” cor­ti­sol response in a stan­dard­ized mea­sure of psy­cho­log­i­cal stress, an obser­va­tion that sup­port­ed find­ings in ani­mal stud­ies. Fur­ther­more, low cor­ti­sol lev­els were only observed in patients with a his­to­ry of pre­na­tal stress. While more study is need­ed, results col­lect­ed so far pro­vide strong evi­dence that girls may be at added risk for devel­op­ing fibromyal­gia if, while in the womb, they were exposed to high­er than nor­mal lev­els of cor­ti­sol pro­duced by their moth­ers in response to stress.

Effects of steroid drug dur­ing preg­nan­cy can span generations

A syn­thet­ic hor­mone com­mon­ly giv­en to preg­nant women at risk for deliv­er­ing ear­ly not only can result in per­ma­nent changes to the newborn’s neu­roen­docrine sys­tem, but may have even greater effects on those born in the next gen­er­a­tion, indi­cate results from ani­mal studies.

Approx­i­mate­ly 7 per­cent of preg­nant women are treat­ed with syn­thet­ic glu­co­cor­ti­coid to help has­ten lung devel­op­ment when pre-term birth seems like­ly. Both ani­mal and human clin­i­cal stud­ies have shown the treat­ment could have long-term effects on neu­roen­docrine func­tion and behav­ior. Using a guinea pig mod­el, Stephen G. Matthews, Ph.D., pro­fes­sor, phys­i­ol­o­gy, obstet­rics & gyne­col­o­gy and med­i­cine, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine, has shown that late-preg­nan­cy expo­sure affects neu­ro­trans­mit­ter sys­tems – the brain’s pri­ma­ry com­mu­ni­ca­tions vehi­cle – and makes fun­da­men­tal changes to stress response mech­a­nisms. More­over, expo­sure in the womb to these syn­thet­ic hor­mones, which also have potent anti-inflam­ma­to­ry and immuno­sup­pres­sive prop­er­ties, can have life-long con­se­quences. Accord­ing to Dr. Matthews’ research, expo­sure affects the hypo­thal­a­m­ic-pitu­itary-adren­al axis (HPA), which con­trols how the body responds to stress and is involved in reg­u­la­tion of ener­gy bal­ance and the immune sys­tem as well. Now, in more recent stud­ies, his group is find­ing such effects extend to sec­ond gen­er­a­tion off­spring, in whom changes to HPA func­tion and behav­ior are even greater than in those direct­ly exposed. For instance, ani­mals whose grand­moth­ers were treat­ed with glu­co­cor­ti­coids exhib­it reduced lev­els of stress hor­mones and mod­i­fied activity.

Cyn is Katie's mom, Esther's Mémé, and a Support Engineer. She lives in the Atlanta area with her life partner, Rick, and their critters. She knits, does counted-thread needlework, reads, makes music, plays TTRPGs, and spends too much time online.
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