While the most predominant symptoms of fibromyalgia include widespread pain and persistent fatigue, the resulting cognitive impairment of this condition may be its most maddening.
Commonly referred to as fibro fog, this symptom is a conglomeration of cognitive challenges. Fibro fog is understood to be a physical symptom of fibromyalgia, not a psychological one. While research on fibro fog is scarce, experts agree that it is not the result of Alzheimer's disease, dementia, or other brain function deterioration condition. Of utmost importance is recognizing that fibro fog can be managed and with the reduction of fibromyalgia's other symptoms, the cloud of fibro fog will also fade away.
Symptoms of Fibro Fog
Just as no two individuals experience fibromyalgia in the same way, fibro fog also has a varying range of indications, including:
· Mental confusion
· Fuzzy thinking
· Short-term memory loss
· Inability to concentrate or pay attention
· Language lapses
Fibro Fog Causes
The same lack of information as to fibromyalgia's origin also surrounds fibro fog. While a variety of causes have been proposed, including depression, decreased oxygen flow to the brain, certain medications, poor nutrition, and changes to the Central Nervous System (CNS), most experts agree that sleep deprivation is the primary culprit of fibro fog.
Occurring at the deepest level of the sleep cycle, individuals with fibromyalgia typically lack sufficient restorative sleep. We know that at the deeper levels of sleep, called delta wave sleep, a person's mind conducts internal housekeeping. During delta wave sleep, newly acquired information is assimilated and integrated into the brain. The inability to get sufficient delta wave sleep impairs the ability to recall information and operate at a normal level of mental efficiency.
Temporal lobe brain abnormalities appear to mimic the presentation of fibro fog.
According to Dr. Jay Seastrunk, a psychiatrist specializing in fibromyalgia, if the temporal lobes are mismatched, there will be trouble with memory, recall and concentration. "Cognitive dysfunction is a right temporal lobe phenomena. Multiple mood swings, trouble sleeping are all temporal lobe abnormalities. Temporal lobe is responsible for understanding what we hear, retrieving and restoring our memories even though the patient may feel they have difficulty with their memory. The problem is actually the retrieval of this information. Not being able to find the word or you forget what you are going to do, or blocking, is a left temporal lobe phenomena. "
Dr. Muhammad B. Yunus, a leading chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia researcher, suggests that SPECT (single photon emission computerized tomography), PET (positron emission tomography) and BEAM (brain electrical activity mapping) scans of the brain demonstrate that fibro fog is a physical anomaly. According to Dr. Yunus, "Cerebral blood flow imaging by SPECT, PET and BEAM have been reported to be abnormal in a large majority of patients with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), showing a pattern different from normal controls and those with depression. Results of SPECT, PET or BEAM studies specifically in fibromyalgia have not been reported, but a good number of patients with CFS who had these tests carried out with abnormal results also had fibromyalgia. "
When considering both Dr. Seastrunk and Dr. Yunus' contributions, it is clear that fibro fog is represented by physically visible brain variances.
Managing fibro fog
Since fibro fog is believed to be directly related to non-restorative sleep, putting all of one's resources into getting good, quality sleep is crucial. In addition to seeking professional assistance (and possible physician-prescribed sleep medications), the following suggestions may be conducive to getting a quality night's sleep:
· Adhering to a regular sleep routine – going to sleep and waking at the same time each day
· Providing a relaxing atmosphere prior to and during sleep
· Limiting caffeine and food consumption near bedtime
· Listening to white noise prior to and during sleep
· Sleeping on a high quality mattress
· For pain reduction, using pillows in bed to cushion any sore spots
· Using natural sleep aids (always consult your physician)
In addition to focusing on getting restorative sleep, The Arthritis Foundation® shares nine tips to minimize fibro fog's impact during the day:
1. Repeat yourself. Repeat things to yourself over and over again. Repetition will keep thoughts fresh in your mind.
2. Write it down. Whether you write in a calendar, in a notebook or on sticky notes, if you're afraid you will not remember something, putting pen to paper can help.
3. Pick your best time. If there is something you need to do that requires concentration and memory, such as balancing your checkbook or following a recipe, pick your best time to do it. Many people with fibromyalgia say they perform best early in the day.
4. Get treated. Depression, pain and sleep deprivation can influence your ability to concentrate and remember. Getting your medical problems treated may indirectly help your memory.
5. Engage yourself. Reading a book, seeing a play, or working a complex crossword or jigsaw puzzle can stimulate your brain and your memory.
6. Stay active. Physical activity, in moderation, can increase your energy and help lift your fibro fog. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist about an exercise program that is right for you.
7. Explain yourself. Explain your memory difficulties to family members and close friends. Memory problems often result from stress. Getting a little understanding from the ones you love may help.
8. Keep it quiet. A radio blasting from the next room, a TV competing for your attention, or background conversation can distract your attention from the task at hand. If possible, move to a quiet place and minimize distractions when you are trying to remember.
9. Go slowly. Sometimes memory problems can result from trying to do too much in too short a period of time. Break up tasks, and do not take on more than you can handle at once. Stress and fatigue will only make the situation worse.
Fibro Fog Hope
As one of fibromyalgia's most frustrating components, there is hope for fibro fog sufferers. Understanding the following about fibro fog will allay many accompanying fears:
· You are not alone in suffering with fibro fog
· Fibro fog is not a psychological condition
· Fibro fog is likely a result of non-restorative sleep disturbances
· Improving sleep can reduce fibro fog
· There are many ways to reduce fibro fog's prominence in your life
The best news of all is that many individuals report that being committed to managing their fibromyalgia (by integrating western medicine, alternative medicine and lifestyle changes), has resulted in their fibro fog fading away.
Yunus, MD, Muhammad B., Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Syndrome: Similarities and Differences, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, Peoria, Illinois.
http://www.arthritis.org, Clearing the Fog, Arthritis Foundation, 2006.
http://www.disabilitysecrets.com, Fibromyalgia and Brain Fog or Fibro, disabilitysecrets.com, 2006.
http://www.drlamb.com, Clearing the Brain-Fog of Fibromyalgia, The Pain Reliever Corporation, 2006.
[Http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/Falls/8173/neurology.html], Neurological Effects of FM and CFS.
web.tampabay.rr.com/lymecfs/brainfog.htm, What is Brainfog and how significant is it ?, Marilyn J. Kerr, RN, 2001.
http://www.suite101.com, Fibromyalgia: Fighting Fibro-Fog, Tamara Peters.