Cortisol Profile Mediates the Relation Between Childhood Neglect and Pain and Emotional Symptoms among Patients with Fibromyalgia

Ann Behav Med. 2016 Feb;50(1):87-97. doi: 10.1007/s12160-015-9734-z.


Background: The relation between childhood trauma and chronic pain and emotional symptoms in adulthood has been well-documented, although physiological mechanisms mediating this link have not been elaborated.

Purpose: This study examined the mediating role of cortisol profile in the linkage between childhood maltreatment and pain and emotional symptoms in individuals with fibromyalgia (FM).

Methods: One hundred seventy-nine adults with FM first provided retrospective self-reports of childhood maltreatment, then attended a standardized session during which cortisol was sampled across 1.5 hours and, subsequently, completed assessments of daily pain, depressive symptoms, and anxiety. Latent growth curve modeling estimated the hypothesized mediation models.

Results: Childhood neglect predicted a flattened cortisol profile, which, in turn, predicted elevated daily pain and emotional symptoms. The cortisol profile partially mediated the neglect-symptom relation.

Conclusions: Early maltreatment may exert enduring effects on endocrine regulation that contributes to pain and emotional symptoms in adults with chronic pain.

Keywords: Anxiety; Childhood Maltreatment; Cortisol; Depression; Fibromyalgia; Pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Depression / psychology
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / complications
  • Fibromyalgia / metabolism*
  • Fibromyalgia / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / metabolism*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone