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Psychophysiological characteristics of women suffering from stress-related fatigue.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2010 (English)In: Stress and Health, ISSN 1532-3005, E-ISSN 1532-2998, Vol. 26, no 2, 113-126 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Stress-related fatigue has been attributed to excessive sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation, but findings have been equivocal as to whether the HPA axis or the autonomic nervous system (ANS) are affected in this condition and how. Whether task performance deficits are associated with this condition is also uncertain. The present study investigated possible differences between women with stress-related fatigue and healthy women in heart rate variability (HRV) and other autonomic and respiratory measures, task performance and in salivary cortisol response to awakening. Thirty-six women with stress-related fatigue were compared with 19 female healthy controls matched in age. Four indices of HRV and other autonomic and respiratory measures were recorded during baseline, task performance and relaxation phases of a laboratory session. Saliva cortisol was measured four times during the hour after awakening. The fatigued group showed less HRV in three measures, higher temperature, lower O2 saturation at the surface of the finger, lower end-tidal pCO2, and greater cortisol response. This group responded faster on the task but with more errors. Women with stress-related fatigue show signs of hyperarousal on ANS, respiratory and HPA axis measures. The lower HRV may indicate greater cardiovascular risk. Results for task performance confirm subjectively reported deficits.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010. Vol. 26, no 2, 113-126 p.
Keyword [en]
autonomic nervous system, continuous performance, fatigue, heart rate variability, HPA axis, stress
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-129909DOI: 10.1002/smi.1271ISI: 000277351900003OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-129909DiVA: diva2:345552
Available from: 2010-08-25 Created: 2010-08-25 Last updated: 2010-12-27Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Heart Rate Variability in Stress-related Fatigue, Adolescent Anxiety and Depression and its Connection to Lifestyle
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Heart Rate Variability in Stress-related Fatigue, Adolescent Anxiety and Depression and its Connection to Lifestyle
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Heart rate varies constantly as a consequence of activity in the sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous systems (SNS and PNS). In short-term recordings, heart rate variability (HRV) is mostly related to the inhibitory activity of the vagal nerves, which are part of the PNS. HRV is lower when under stress as well as in several illnesses and psychiatric conditions. Decreased HRV is also related to cardiac disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide. Autonomic imbalance, measured as HRV, is suggested as a mediator between psychosocial distress and cardiovascular disease.

The aim of the present thesis was to investigate the connection between HRV and psychosocial distress, including psychiatric problems (studies I and II), and lifestyle factors (study III). In study I, additional physiological measures sensitive to autonomic activity and results from a continuous attention test were investigated in parallel with HRV. In studies II and III the participants were adolescents.

The results show that HRV is lower in women with stress-related fatigue and adolescent girls with a psychiatric diagnosis compared to healthy control groups. However, these groups did not exhibit an increase in physiological measures of SNS origin, which supports the assumption that the observed hyperarousal is related to decreased vagal activity rather than increased SNS activity. Women with stress-related fatigue made more impulsive errors and had a “risky” response style in the continuous attention test. There was a negative correlation between test performance and HRV. Decreased vagal activity is thus associated with deficient behavioural inhibition. In study III, HRV in a group of healthy adolescent boys and girls was positively associated with physical activity but not with other lifestyle measures.

Even at young age HRV is a sensitive marker of autonomic imbalance resulting from psychosocial stress. Future longitudinal research will show whether HRV can be used for early identification of people at risk of cardiovascular disease and whether such interventions will lower the risk of cardiac morbidity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universtatis Upsaliensis, 2010. 66 p.
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 61
heart rate variability, autonomic nervous system, vagal tone, allostatic load, stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, continuous performance, attention, cardiovascular risk, lifestyle, physical activity
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-129910 (URN)978-91-554-7874-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2010-10-15, Sal IV, Universitetshuset, Uppsala, 10:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2010-09-24 Created: 2010-08-25 Last updated: 2010-12-22

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