Psychological pain and reduced resting-state heart rate variability in adults with a history of depression

Authors

  • Esther L. Meerwijk,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Community Health Systems, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
    • Address correspondence to: Esther L. Meerwijk, Department of Community Health Systems, University of California, San Francisco, 2 Koret Way #N-505, San Francisco, CA 94143-0608, USA. E-mail: esther.meerwijk@gmail.com

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  • Catherine A. Chesla,

    1. Department of Family Health Care Nursing, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
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  • Sandra J. Weiss

    1. Department of Community Health Systems, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
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  • This research was supported by grants from the American Psychiatric Nursing Foundation and Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, Alpha Eta Chapter.

Abstract

Psychological pain is a prominent symptom in people who experience depression, but its relation with physiological measures has not been explored. This study compared two measures of psychological pain, the Orbach & Mikulincer Mental Pain (OMMP) questionnaire and the Psychache Scale, for their relationship with resting-state heart rate variability (HRV) in 35 adults with a history of depression. Low-frequency HRV decreased significantly with increasing psychological pain, particularly in participants who did not use antidepressants, while the beat-to-beat fractal dimension decreased in participants who did use antidepressants. Neither heart rate nor high-frequency HRV was associated with psychological pain. These results suggest a state of arousal characterized by increased sympathetic activity. Results also indicate that the OMMP may be a more accurate measure of autonomic arousal associated with current psychological pain than the Psychache Scale.

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