Primary fibromyalgia syndrome (PFS) is characterized by widespread chronic pain that affects the musculoskeletal system, fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbance, headache and postural hypotension. The pathophysiology of PFS is unknown. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis seems to play an important role in PFS. Both hyperactivity and hypoactivity of the HPA axis have been reported in patients with PFS. In this study we assessed the HPA axis by 1 mug ACTH stimulation test and metyrapone test in 22 patients with PFS and in 15 age-, sex-, and body mass index (BMI)- matched controls. Metyrapone (30 mg/kg) was administered orally at 23:00 h and blood was sampled at 08:30 h the following morning for 11-deoxycortisol. ACTH stimulation test was carried out by using 1 mug (iv) ACTH as a bolus injection after an overnight fast, and blood samples were drawn at 0, 30 and 60 min. Peak cortisol level (659.4+/-207.2 nmol/l) was lower in the patients with PFS than peak cortisol level (838.7+/-129.6 nmol/l) in the control subjects (p<0.05). Ten patients (45%) with PFS had peak cortisol responses to 1 mug ACTH test lower than the lowest peak cortisol detected in healthy controls. After metyrapone test 11-deoxycortisol level was 123.7+/-26 nmol/l in patients with PFS and 184.2+/-17.3 nmol/l in the controls (p<0.05). Ninety five percent of the patients with PFS had lower 11-deoxycortisol level after metyrapone than the lowest 11-deoxycortisol level after metyrapone detected in healthy controls. We also compared the adrenal size of the patients with that of the healthy subjects and we found that the adrenal size between the groups was similar. This study clearly shows that HPA axis is underactivated in PFS, rather than overactivated. (C) 2004, Editrice Kurtis.