Parting the Clouds: Dealing With Fibro Fog
What Is Fibromyalgia?
According to National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, fibromyalgia affects an estimated 5 million Americans 18 years or older. Middle-aged women account for 90 percent of those diagnosed.
Fibromyalgia is a rheumatic chronic disorder that causes pain and tenderness in the joints and soft tissue. In addition to pain and fatigue, a common symptom is brain fog, often referred to as 'fibro fog.'
Symptoms of Fibro Fog
Fibro fog is the feeling of being in a haze. This and related symptoms can vary from mild to extreme and may occur on and off. Overstimulation, stress, poor sleep, and certain medications can cause them to worsen.
Not every fibromyalgia sufferer will experience all fibro fog symptoms, which include:
- memory difficulties
- decreased alertness
- inability to focus/stay focused
- lack of concentration
Take It From Someone Who Knows
“I am the Post-it Note Queen. It is the only way I was able to function at work, when I was able to function. It made my boss crazy. She couldn’t understand why I needed so many notes, and notes on notes, and a big one-month calendar in front of me with everything posted.
I just become overwhelmed by so many things. I need to remember [if I] did something, or just [thought I] did it. Lots of time for me is spent daydreaming about what I have to do when the pain is not too much. It’s small spurts of energy to get things done and then downtime lost in brain fog and exhaustion.”
—Diane P, 55 years old
Certain medications, such as Lyrica and Cymbalta, are used to treat the general symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, they aren’t targeted specifically to fibro fog. For example, many fibromyalgia sufferers are unable to get a restful sleep due to physical pain. Their doctors may prescribe Ambien (zolpidem) or Lunesta (eszipoclone) to help with this symptom. Consult your doctor to learn about available drug treatment options.
According to the Fibromyalgia and Lupus Association, brainteasers such as crossword and jigsaw puzzles can help keep the brain active and decrease the symptoms of fibro fog.
Games that require strategic thinking like Scrabble, chess, checkers, and bridge help flex your brain and get the blood moving.
Although it may seem contradictory, physical exercise can actually reduce pain and sensitivity, according to the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.
Exercise helps re-establish the natural neurochemical balance of the body and increase your natural ‘feel good’ endorphins. This is helpful for fibro sufferers experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression.
Vitamin supplementation can help replace deficiencies that may be contributing to your condition. According to a report published in Clinical Rheumatology, research indicates that there is a possible link between fibromyalgia and vitamin D deficiencies.
The report suggests that low vitamin D levels may lead to anxiety and depression.
Many over-the-counter (OTC) supplements may help ease the symptoms of fibro fog. Note that not all patients will have the same reaction to the following supplements. However, studies suggest that they may be helpful.
Magnesium & Amitriptyline
A magnesium deficiency causes low levels of the energy- carrying molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This results in a multitude of symptoms, including cognitive impairment.
According to a 2012 study published in Rheumatology International, patients who were given magnesium and the anti-depressant amitriptyline showed promising results. Magnesium supplements can cause adverse side effects, so consult with your doctor before using.
Acetyl L-carnitine (LAC)
Acetyl L-carnitine (LAC) is commonly used to treat various mental disorders. It also has shown some benefits for treating the mental dysfunction.
A 2007 study in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology indicated that acetyl L-carnitine may help reduce pain and improve the mental health of some fibro patients.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese healing. According to a 2006 research study conducted by the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, acupuncture helped improve the severity of fatigue and depression—two common symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Yoga & Mediation
According to a 2011 Canadian study, practicing yoga can increase cortisol levels. Higher cortisol levels can reduce pain and increase ‘mindfulness’ in female sufferers.
Participate in at least two 75-minute yoga classes per week to gain the full benefits of yoga therapy.
The American Psychological Association (APA) promotes massage therapy to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. According to a study conducted by Australian Association of Massage Therapy, massage therapy may alleviate the physical and psychological symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, additional research is needed to prove its effectiveness.
Choosing Your Best Option
The symptoms of fibromyalgia are as diverse as those who suffer from them. Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all treatment for fibro fog.
Your best option is to work with your doctor or health care team to identify which therapies will help ease your symptoms and allow you to function better on a daily basis.
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