Fibromyalgia is a chronic, incurable condition that causes widespread pain throughout the body. More than half of those diagnosed with the condition also report experiencing cognitive issues, collectively known as “fibro fog.”
Fibro fog can involve memory problems as well as difficulty with executive function.
It’s an issue that impacts millions. In the United States alone, an estimated 10 million have fibromyalgia. The condition strikes women more than men at a ratio of about 8-to-1. In addition to pain, they also may experience fatigue, sleep disorders, stiffness and headaches, according to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association.
Fibromyalgia symptoms sometimes begin after physical trauma, surgery, infection or psychological stress. However, in other cases, there is no triggering event.
How Fibro Fog Impacts Fibromyalgia Sufferers
The loss of proper cognitive function in fibromyalgia patients is twice as common as similar cases involving other rheumatologic conditions, according to research cited by the Arthritis Foundation.
A handful of specific issues are most frequently mentioned by those who experience fibro fog. The foundation reported they include the following.
- Forgetfulness as well as difficulty in remembering new information
- An inability to think quickly, especially when there are many distractions in the environment
- Problems with focus, concentration and feeling alert
- Difficulty with accessing stored language information quickly, which can lead to problems having conversations
The causes of fibro fog remain uncertain. It’s possible that the chronic pain and lack of sleep could lead to cognitive issues. Some studies – including a 2016 study published in NeuroImage Clinical – have concluded that a patient’s subjective assessment of their cognitive abilities is worse than their actual performance on cognitive tests.
However, the foundation noted that “study authors think one reason for the disconnect is that taking memory and thinking tests under the controlled conditions of scientific study – and without the distractions of daily life – may not reflect real-world function.”
Potential Treatments for Fibro Fog
A 2018 Plos One study may offer a potential treatment for those who suffer from fibro fog. Researchers compared fibromyalgia patients with people who suffer from depression as well as a group of healthy people. They found that most of the cognitive problems reported by fibromyalgia patients related to poor sleep.
That’s significant, as the study also found that 99% of those with fibromyalgia report getting poor sleep. Doctors working with fibromyalgia patients may recommend a combination of medications to better manage pain and practicing good sleep hygiene.
A 2018 study published in Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging found that fibromyalgia patients who do resistance exercise twice a week for about four months process information faster than they did before starting the exercise. Another found that strength training led to a decrease of sleep disturbances after two months of workouts.
For those with fibromyalgia, it’s important to explore every option available to treat fibromyalgia pain and potential loss of cognitive function. They also should consult with a physician before making big changes in lifestyle or trying new treatment options.