Fibromyalgia & Lupus National Association
Have you forgotten where you put your keys again? Having trouble remembering what you were supposed to do this afternoon? Do you have difficulty finding the right words to use to express yourself? If you are experiencing some or all of these memory problems you may be suffering from fibro fog.
Fibro fog refers to a variety of cognitive impairments that fibromyalgia sufferers experience with the disorder. Fibro fog can be one of the most stressful and upsetting fibromyalgia symptoms. If you know someone with fibromyalgia syndrome or if you are suffering from the illness, keep an eye out for the indicators of fibro fog.
What is Fibro fog?
Fibro fog is a term given to the variety of cognitive problems that many fibromyalgia sufferers face during their illness. Fibro fog encompasses memory loss, difficulties using language, and difficulties with learning. These symptoms tend to descend in a haze or "fog," around the sufferer. Fibro fogs can occur at any time and can vary in intensity when they do occur. Fibro fog tends to happen more during their most severe flare ups while you are in pain.
Fibro fog affects about both women and men who have fibromyalgia pain, though it tends to hit women more often. Women between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to be affected by fibro fog. Episodes of fibro fog typically last only a few days, though sometimes severe fibro fog can last for weeks or even months.
Symptoms of Fibro fog
Fibro fog is one of the most common yet unrecognized symptoms of fibromyalgia. If you have fibromyalgia signs and symptoms it is important to be aware of fibro fog so that you can seek appropriate treatment and manage your illness more effectively. Some symptoms of fibro fog include:
· short term memory loss
· difficulty remembering where you put things
· difficulty remembering plans
· difficulty with language, including trouble holding conversations, understanding conversations, and expressing thoughts
· difficulty finding the "right" word to use in conversation
· trouble remembering simple numbers
· transposing letters and numbers
· trouble concentrating and focusing
· trouble retaining new information
Causes of Fibro fog
The causes of memory loss and fibro fog are as yet undetermined; however, a number of factors could be at the root of these cognitive impairments. It is apparent that there is no real problem with the mental capacities of people suffering from fibro fog. Instead, there must be underlying problems that cause the brain to be unable to complete memory functions.
Sleep Deprivation: Sleep disorders are one of the primary fibromyalgia signs and symptoms. Lack of adequate sleep can affect the brain’s ability to produce enough of the neurochemical serotonin, which aids in laying down memory.
Decreased Blood Flow: Studies show that fibromyalgia disability can cause decreased blood flow to certain areas of the brain responsible for creating short term memories. This lack of blood flow may prevent the brain from adequately creating new memories.
Chronic Pain: The chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia may actually inhibit the brain’s ability to create memories. Processing pain signals takes up a lot of the brain’s time and energy, especially in someone with fibromyalgia. This excessive pain may therefore reduce the amount of time the brain spends on trying to form new memories. Pain also produces large amounts of stress which can be one of the causes of short term memory loss.
Depression: A large percentage of people with fibromyalgia also report that they suffer from anxiety and depression. Depression and memory loss definitely seem to be linked. Depression lowers the levels of serotonin in the brain, preventing new memories from being laid down. Low levels of serotonin are also linked with learning difficulties.
Effects of Fibro fog on Fibromyalgia
Fibro fog tends to have negative effects on fibromyalgia symptoms and the course of the illness. Fibro fog can cause people with fibromyalgia to forget important self-care techniques including stretching and exercise. This can cause the pain of fibromyalgia to become worse.
In a recent study involving people with and without fibromyalgia, those with fibromyalgia reported more trouble with memory, concentration, mental confusion, and speaking. Patients with fibro fog also complained of more pain, increased fatigue, and more sleeping.
Some patients describe fibro fog as having a ping-pong ball loose in your brain, trying to land on the right words to say. It could be as simple as constantly losing things or transposing phone numbers. But fibro fog can seriously affect people's quality of life.
For example: Lynne Matallana, co-founder and president of the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA), found that her fibro fog made it dangerous for her to drive.
She had difficulty concentrating and felt less aware of her surroundings. Once she found herself running a red light. "It can be totally incapacitating," says Matallana, 53, of Anaheim, Calif. "It's not just being unable to come up with a word quickly, it's a very, very serious part of this disease."
In the past five years, physicians have been taking fibro fog more seriously, according to Daniel Clauw, MD, director of the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
Research has shown that sufferers annually lose more than three times as much "gray matter" brain tissue than healthy, age-matched controls. And some of that loss occurs in areas of the brain that are involved in memory and concentration, says Patrick Wood, MD, a senior medical adviser to the NFA and one of the coauthors of the 2007 study.
Matallana has discovered that being over stimulated makes things far worse. "I know I get it a lot when I'm in a situation where there are a lot of fluorescent lights or a lot of background noise. Or if I haven't gotten a good night's sleep or I'm feeling more pain. All of these things mean I can have a hard time focusing on the things that are important."
She finds that by avoiding such conditions, she can manage her fog and make sure it doesn't excessively impact her life.
"Fibro fog" is the name commonly given to the cognitive problems that can go along with fibromyalgia syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome. These problems with concentration and memory can lead to confusion, losing your train of thought, or forgetting or mixing up words or details.
You can take steps to manage fibro fog. Try some of the following tips:
· Write it down. Making a note helps you get a thought more firmly in your mind. You might want to keep a calendar or notebook with you so you can write things down while you're thinking of them.
· Get treated. Other symptoms that commonly go along with fibromyalgia—including depression, pain, and lack of sleep—can also make it harder to concentrate and remember. Medical treatment for these other problems may also help your memory.
· Stay active—mind and body. Keep your mind working by doing puzzles, reading, or seeing a play to get yourself thinking. Moderate physical activity can increase your energy and help clear the fibro fog. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist about an exercise program that is right for you.
· Find ways to help you focus. Try breaking tasks up into small steps. Don't take on more than you can comfortably manage, so you're not trying to do too much at once. When you do start a task, avoid distractions that can keep you from concentrating. A loud radio or TV, or trying to work where other people are talking, can make it hard for you to focus on what you're doing. Try working in a quiet place when you are trying to concentrate or remember, so you can give the task your full attention.
In FMS, brain fog generally is worse when pain is worse. In both FMS and ME/CFS, it can be exacerbated when you're anxious, rushed, or dealing with sensory overload.
Symptoms of brain fog can range from mild to severe. They frequently vary from day to day, and not everyone has all of them. Symptoms include:
· Word use & recall: Difficulty recalling known words, use of incorrect words, slow recall of names.
· Short-term memory problems: Forgetfulness, inability to remember what's read or heard.
· Directional disorientation: Not recognizing familiar surroundings, easily becoming lost, having trouble recalling where things are.
· Multitasking difficulties: Inability to pay attention to more than one thing, forgetfulness of original task when distracted.
· Confusion & trouble concentrating Trouble processing information, easily distracted.
· Math/number difficulties: Difficulty performing simple math, remembering sequences, transposing numbers, trouble remembering numbers.
Brain Fog & Learning Disorders
So far, we don't have evidence that our brain fog comes from known learning disorders. However, our problems are similar to those associated with disorders such as dyslexia (reading problems), dysphasia (speaking problems) and dyscalculia (math/time/spatial problems).
If you believe you could have a recognized learning disorder, talk to your doctor.
A diagnosis help you get reasonable accommodations at work or could help strengthen a
disability benefits claim.
Treating Brain Fog
For some people, brain fog resolves with effective treatment for pain or sleep problems. However, not everyone can find effective treatments, which leaves many of us trying to manage brain fog.
Supplements are a common choice. While we don't have a lot of evidence to support their effectiveness, some doctors and people with these conditions say they've seen supplements help with cognitive function. Common brain-fog supplements include:
· B vitamins
· Omega-3 (Fish Oil)
Some doctors recommend dietary changes to include "brain friendly" foods, some of which are natural sources of the supplements listed above. Some of these foods are:
· Fish (Omega-3)
· Canola or walnut oil (Omega-3)
· Eggs (Choline)
· Fruits & vegetables
Some FMS research shows that moderate exercise can help improve cognitive function as well.
Researchers are learning more about the brain and how it works, and new information could help us understand brain fog. Research on aging brains and some degenerative brain conditions shows that cognitive training can slow, stop or sometimes reverse cognitive dysfunction.
Some doctors use cognitive training programs, which often include software that you use at home. Video game companies and websites offer games they claim can improve cognitive function, and while specific games haven't been evaluated for this ability, some evidence does suggest that virtual reality games improve memory and critical-thinking skills.
Because this is an emerging area of science, we're likely to learn more about cognition and cognitive training in the next few years.