Fibromyalgia associated with cognitive dysfunction, memory loss

fibromyalgia-associated-with-cognitive-dysfunction-memory-lossFibromyalgia, a condition best described as chronic wide-spread pain, has been linked with cognitive dysfunction and specifically memory loss.

A recent study confirmed the link between fibromyalgia and cognitive impairment. Fibromyalgia sufferers have complained about memory loss and feeling like they are in a fog. Today, the American College of Rheumatology includes cognitive dysfunction, such as “fibro fog” on its list of diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia.


The study published in Arthritis Care & Research indicates that a group of fibromyalgia patients or, as some refer to it, FM sufferers, scored lower on recall and verbal learning tests than those without the condition. This suggests impairment in “episodic memory”. For example, this could mean they had a hard time recalling past personal experiences that occurred at a particular time and place. FM patients also showed much poorer judgment on self-perception of cognitive dysfunction, including mental acuity. This suggests they had more difficulty focusing, concentrating and understanding.

It turned out that, as the research demonstrated, the more severe a person’s fibromyalgia symptoms were, the greater the self-perception of cognitive impairments was. The experts involved in the study did point out that they didn’t take into account medical treatments, such as medications that can sometimes impact cognitive decline caused by fibromyalgia.

Possible contributing factors and signs of fibromyalgia fibro fog

Fibromyalgia and cognitive function has been described by FM sufferers in different ways. While some patients call it “fog”, others say they feel like they are constantly on cold medication. The bottom line is that they have a difficult time remembering things, finding words, and feeling alert.

Here are some typical, yet frightening symptoms of fibro fog:

  • Misplacing objects
  • Difficulty carrying on conversations
  • Inability to remember new information
  • Forgetting plans
  • Becoming easily distracted

So why is this happening? This is the question people with fibromyalgia ask themselves over and over again. While we do know what the fibro fog symptoms are, we can’t say for certain what the fibro fog causes are. However, medical researchers do have some solid leads.

Fibromyalgia is experienced at different levels. Some people with fibromyalgia experience mild pain and are high functioning, others experience moderate pain, and still there is a group of sufferers who go through periods of extreme pain and are low functioning. Perhaps, you have heard of someone with FM who is unable to even get out of bed. Moderate to extreme levels of pain can lead to fatigue, and fatigue can impact your brain functioning.

Here are a few other possible contributing factors:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Mental distraction due to the pain
  • Premature aging
  • Abnormal cranial blood flow
  • Abnormal cranial blood volume

Depression is also common in those who suffer from fibromyalgia. Depression has long been associated with memory problems.

Fibromyalgia causes and prevention

Fibromyalgia associated with cognitive dysfunction, memory lossYears ago, there was no medical definition for fibromyalgia. In fact, doctors used to say it wasn’t “real”.  As time passed, they came to realize just how apparent the pain associated with FM is. Today, rheumatologists say that while fibromyalgia can occur for no apparent reason, they believe that in many cases it appears following a traumatic experience, prolonged periods of stress, sexual or physical abuse during childhood, overworking (lack of sleep), or possibly due to a viral disease.

Fibromyalgia is diagnosed with a pain tenderness test, normally conducted by a specialist, such as a rheumatologist. The easiest way to explain it – if you score 11 or higher on the test, you are officially diagnosed with FM. A new mechanism, called the WPI or widespread pain index, can help determine the severity of the condition.

Sadly, there is no way to cure fibromyalgia once you have it. You can control the symptoms or flare-ups with changes in lifestyle, such as getting plenty of rest, reducing emotional stress, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy diet. As for preventing fibromyalgia, that is extremely difficult in light of the fact that we don’t know everything about the condition, and we can’t always control situations, like traumatic events.

A lot of research into fibromyalgia and cognitive function continues around the globe, particularly when it comes to the causes.

Living with cognitive dysfunction or fibro fog

Fibro fog can be difficult to cope with, both on a personal and professional level. It can impact a person’s relationships and work. In the case of day-to-day living, some sufferers have reported that keeping a list of where they are going and why, keeping maps of places in their car – especially places they go on a regular basis – as well as remembering to stay calm when they have memory issues, all help. When you panic, cognitive function can decline even more.


The following tips could help a fibro fog sufferer at home:

  • Always put items, such as your cell phone, keys, and purse in the same place.
  • Keep a notepad by the phone or your bedside.
  • Remain social and active.
  • Exercise your brain with puzzles, crosswords, reading etc.
  • Establish your own organizational system that works for you.

Some people with fibro fog feel so frustrated they consider leaving work, but it doesn’t have to go that far. You can still be employed and successful. If you suffer from fog, you can find ways to adjust, such as asking for written instructions instead of verbal, writing things down yourself, keeping detailed to-do lists, repeating information over and over to yourself. Like you would do at home, design an organizational system at work that helps keep you on track.

While much more needs to be uncovered about this chronic condition, fibromyalgia is talked about openly now and it is likely that fibro fog will be one day, too. Fibromyalgia affects an estimated five million Americans. Studies show about three percent of the Canadian population suffers from the condition. Between 80 and 90 percent of FM cases in both the United States and Canada are women.


Related Reading:

Fibromyalgia associated with stress, anxiety and depression risk

Fibromyalgia and sleep disorders: Link between sleep apnea, insomnia and restless legs syndrome