Evidence has suggested abnormal cardiac autonomic responses to exercise in patients with fibromyalgia (FM). However, it is not clear whether the dysautonomia represents a reduced physical fitness rather directly related to FM pathogenesis. Thus, we aimed to verify the cardiac autonomic responses before, during, and after a maximal incremental exercise in women with FM and whether these hypothesized alterations would be dependent of their physical fitness.
This is a cross-sectional study with 23 FM women and 17 healthy women. The participants performed a maximal incremental cycling test to determine their maximal workload (Wmax) and were further matched by their Wmax (14 FM patients, Wmax: 128.6 ± 16.2 W; and 14 healthy women, Wmax: 131.9 ± 15.9 W). Beat-to-beat heart rate (HR) was continuously monitored to calculate HR variability indexes at rest, chronotropic reserve during exercise, and HR recovery.
Heart rate variability indexes related to vagal modulation were significantly lower in FM patients than in healthy women (p < 0.05). The chronotropic reserve and the HR recovery at 30, 120, 180, 300, and 600 seconds after exercise were all lower in FM patients compared with those of healthy women (p < 0.05). Similar findings were found when analysis was performed using the matched physical fitness subgroup.
The documented cardiac autonomic abnormalities at rest, during, and after exercise in FM patients persist even when physical fitness status is taken in account. Thus, strategies to attenuate the dysautonomia in FM patients must be considered.