When you hear about neurotransmitters involved in fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS), serotonin usually gets all the attention. When you talk about stress response, the focus is generally on cortisol.
But norepinephrine, which is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, is a key component of these conditions as well. It's also called noradrenaline, and it's what makes your heart rate and blood pressure soar during a "fight or flight" reaction. A sudden, rapid rise of norepinephrine causes panic attacks. A somewhat high level makes you happy, and a really high level makes you euphoric.
In FMS and ME/CFS, norepinephrine is low. Symptoms attributed to low norepinephrine include:
- Loss of alertness
- Memory problems
- Lack of arousal and interest
So far, we don't know why norepinephrine is low in FMS and ME/CFS. Some known causes of low levels are constant fear and anxiety.
Some medications that raise norepinephrine levels are serotonin norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as Cymbalta (duloxetine) and amphetamines, including Adderall (dextroamphetamine), which is often used to treat ADD.
Other things that raise norepinephrine include:
- Meeting goals (even small ones!)
- Aggression (this is NOT an excuse for bad behavior - maybe try aggressive video games?)
- Alcohol (this is NOT an excuse for over indulging, which does very bad things to your brain chemistry!)
Like with serotonin, doctors don't generally test norepinephrine levels, so they diagnose it based on symptoms. Talk to your doctor about whether you need treatment and what treatment is best for you.
Have you taken steps to increase your norepinephrine? Tell us about it here or in About.com's Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome forum (under Newsletter & Blog topics.)