Growth Hormone Defect Related to Fibromyalgia

05/30/02    Portland, Ore.

A separate study suggests that strengthening exercise benefits patients more than stretching

A new study by a team of OHSU researchers indicates a connection between growth hormone and fibromyalgia.

The researchers found that people with fibromyalgia have an inability to secrete growth hormone during exercise. This finding was published in the May issue of the scientific journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

"There are people who still believe that fibromyalgia is a psychosomatic problem, suggesting that people are making up their symptoms. This current research from OHSU indicates that fibromyalgia has a neuroendocrine basis," said Kim Dupree Jones, R.N.C., Ph.D., F.N.P., assistant professor of nursing in the OHSU School of Nursing. Jones conducted this research along with her research colleagues in the OHSU School of Medicine: Robert Bennett M.D., professor of medicine, arthritis and rheumatic diseases, Atul Deodar M.D., assistant professor of medicine, and Eduardo Paiva M.D., a former fellow in arthritis and rheumatic diseases.

It was found that women with fibromyalgia were unable to secrete growth hormone during strenuous exercise, as did the women without fibromyalgia. Researchers found that another hypothalamic hormone -- somatostatin -- was probably blocking the release of growth hormone in fibromyalgia patients. After giving the fibromyalgia patients the drug, Mestinon, it was found that fibromyalgia patients secreted normal amounts of growth hormone during exercise. As Mestinon is known to inhibit somatostatin secretion in the hypothalamus, it was surmised that fibromyalgia patients probably have elevated levels of brain somatostatin, which impairs their ability to release growth hormone during exercise. Mestinon, is a relatively inexpensive pill that is commonly used to treat myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease in which people suffer attacks of muscle weakness.

Fibromyalgia affects millions of Americans. It is estimated that the cost of this common and debilitating disease is $700 million annually, in health care, loss of work and sick days. The disease affects women nine times as often as men. Its symptoms include widespread pain, disrupted sleep, extreme fatigue, dizziness, numbness, tingling and exercise intolerance.

Another of the OHSU team's fibromyalgia studies was published this month in the Journal of Rheumatology found that a muscle-strengthening program was more effective than flexibility training in easing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. The study's authors include Jones, Bennett, Carol Burckhardt, R.N., Ph.D., professor of nursing, Sharon Clark, R.N., Ph.D., associate professor of nursing, and Kathleen Potempa, R.N., D.N.Sc., FA.A.N., dean, all in the OHSU School of Nursing.

The researchers are awaiting final approval of a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes for Nursing Research to further study whether daily Mestinon use in conjunction with regular exercise improves fibromyalgia symptoms.

"Fibromyalgia research is where rheumatoid arthritis was 20 years ago. Due to major breakthroughs in the scientific basis of rheumatoid arthritis, dramatic new treatments are now available. It is anticipated that a more enlightened understanding of the scientific basis of fibromyalgia also will lead to more effective treatments. We want OSHU to continue its excellence in fibromyalgia research and be on the leading of edge of new and effective treatments," Jones said. OHSU researchers have been studying fibromyalgia for 25 years under Bennett's direction and has been a leader in exercise therapy in fibromyalgia.

For more information about fibromyalgia treatments and research opportunities visit the Oregon Fibromyalgia Foundation Web site, maintained by Robert Bennett, M.D., at The Foundation has annual conferences; the next will be June 15. The program and registration can be accessed at Another resource for fibromyalgia patients, Kim Jones, R.N., Ph.D., answers people's questions about fibromyalgia on WebMD at Click on member communities, then select, "Newly Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia." More than 30,000 people have sent in their questions and concerns.