Fibromyalgia symptoms, in general, are challenging, but brain fog (also called “fibro fog”) can be especially frustrating to me. If I could choose between having pain and fatigue or brain fog, I would choose pain and fatigue — I get so stressed out when I mix up words, am unable to form a complete sentence, or am so easily distracted.
For example, two years ago, I forgot to keep up on my medication refills and realized that I had ran out on a Friday night. I was not able to get my refills until Monday and had no idea how quickly I would start going through medication withdrawals. It was one of the worst weekends I have ever experienced. More recently, I spent a Saturday remembering what I had forgotten to do earlier in the week. All of my non-fibro friends and family tell me that it “happens to all of us as we get older.” This is not something someone with fibromyalgia wants to hear. Honestly, that statement scares me to death. If it is “normal” for us to lose our cognitive skills as we age, will we actually notice a difference? Or will it increasingly get worse?
Studies show that the cognitive dysfunction caused by fibromyalgia happens because our brain is so overwhelmed with pain signals that it can not process, retain or recall information. But I wonder, if I have been able to find the right mix of fibromyalgia treatments, and my pain is at a manageable level, why am I still having memory problems?
Solving part of the puzzle may have something to do with my sleep. I had a sleep study and the results showed that I have sleep maintenance disorder, which means I do not ever reach REM sleep. I recently learned that during sleep, stage 4 it is the time that our body reaches the restorative healing sleep. It is also the time when our short term memories are turned into long term memories. At least that can account for some of my memory loss. Over the years, I have learned some things I can do to help reduce some of the cognitive symptoms of fibromyalgia and brain fog.
What are Typical Brain Fog Symptoms?
- Difficulty recalling words or names, using incorrect words, difficulty expressing thoughts or emotions
- Forgetfulness, difficulty remembering where you put things, forgetting what you are doing, unable to recall what was heard or read
- Easily distracted, difficulty paying attention to more than one thing at a time
- Not knowing where you are going or where you are, not recognizing your surroundings, impaired sense of direction
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What can we do to alleviate brain fog and improve our cognitive abilities?
- Rest your body.
- Keep a daily routine.
- Plan your days. Use one to-do list and one calendar.
- Use Reminders & Alarms. Smartphones have amazing apps to help you remember everything.
- Focus on one thing at a time.
- Meditate and Do Calming Exercises. Try mindfulness, meditation, gentle yoga, water exercise classes, listening to music.
- Breathe. People with fibromyalgia forget to breathe; we tend to hold our breath or take shallow breaths. Slow deep breathes will help increase the oxygen and the blood flow in the brain. Cold ice on the forehead can slow down the feel of panic/anxiety.
- Exercise.Exercise creates endorphins that help eliminate pain and brain fog.
- Practice Good Sleep Hygiene. Stick to a bedtime routine. Use a sleep mask, a good mattress and pillow, a darkened room, and light noise.
- Eat a Healthy Diet. Not sure what to eat? Avoid processed foods, gluten, sugar, caffeine, and various food additives and preservatives, which can make pain and brain fog worse.
- Supplements. B vitamins, omega 3, Ginkgo biloba, and magnesium can all help support better cognitive functioning.
- Play Games. Puzzles, brain teasers, Scrabble and word-find games can help keep you mentally stimulated.
Although the above suggestions can make your daily life easier, the primary thing to remember is: Don’t freak out when you forget things.
Early on in my illness I forgot my parent’s phone number. I had always dialed it – never speed dialed. I sat there staring at the phone, bawling. Another time, I couldn’t remember what locker I had put my clothes in at the pool. Again, I stared at the lockers and bawled. All that accomplished was for my emotions to take over, and the ensuing panic led to a major increase in pain. The most important thing to do is to stay calm, and remember you are a
Fibro Warrior — living Life!
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on January 28, 2016 and was updated on September 3, 2019
Melissa Swanson, a frequent ProHealth contributor, is a chronic pain patient, advocate, and author. Through her Facebook page, she offers positive encouragement, medical information, resources, and support to 14,000+ fibromyalgia and chronic pain patients. In addition to her own blog, Melissa has been published in “Living Well with Fibromyalgia” and the NFMCPA “Advocate Voice.” She’s a graduate of the 2014 Class of Leaders Against Pain Scholarship Training sponsored by the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association and a member of the Leaders Against Pain Action Network.