Fibromyalgia patients often experience a loss of mental clarity and problems with memory. Dubbed "fibro fog," this side effect of the syndrome can have a significant impact on patients' lives.
Carolyn Nuth, 65, holds down a demanding job as manager of a patient information center for the Baltimore-based American Pain Foundation. She loves her job because as a fibromyalgia sufferer, she knows what chronic pain feels like and is able to relate to those who get in touch. But while she may share her experiences with people who have back pain, migraines, arthritisyou name itonly fibromyalgia sufferers share her experiences with fibro fog.
"Periodically the clarity is lost," says Nuth. "I do feel like 'Um, what?' It's almost a memory thing. 'Did I do that?' Or 'Didn't I do that?'"
A blight on the life of the fibro patient
Others describe it 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 overstimulated 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. For tips on managing fibro fog, check out "4 Steps to Beating Fibro Fog."