Updated October 2019
Rheumatic diseases are characterized by changes in the joints, pain, and inflammation. People with fibromyalgia are very often referred to as having a rheumatic disease; however, that is not always the case. In fact, it is detrimental to consider fibromyalgia as one system classification since it involves every area of the body. While many of their pain symptoms do involve the joints, there are bigger issues at play with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain conditions rampant in the United States. It affects the central nervous system and has symptoms ranging from excess fatigue to widespread pain. Other symptoms include increased sensitivity to chemicals and foods, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and poor immune functioning. Of important note here is that fibromyalgia causes significant psychological distress and impaired cognitive functioning (fibro fog).
A recent study that was presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting in Boston reported that those with fibromyalgia are at increased risk for presenting with symptoms of anxiety compared to those with arthritis and other rheumatologic diseases.
Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain conditions. The disorder affects an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. and an estimated 3-6% of the world population. While it is most prevalent in women —75-90 percent of the people who have FM are women —it also occurs in men and children of all ethnic groups.
In the above study, the team looked at 191 people with a rheumatic disorder. Of these, 79 had fibromyalgia, and the other 112 had some other type of rheumatic disease. There was an age difference between the groups. Fibro patients had an average age of 51.2 years and the others had an average age of 51.9 years.
Each of the participants were evaluated for anxiety along with a rheumatologic symptom checklist covering 13 organs. The fibro patients had higher scores on eight of nine items that assessed anxiety. The second group showed normal anxiety levels. There were also higher levels of illness and symptom intensity in fibromyalgia patients compared to those with other rheumatic diseases. Even adjusting for this, fibro patients were still more likely to have anxiety.
At this same annual meeting, researchers reviewed the effect on cognitive functioning in patients with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
As mentioned, fibromyalgia heavily effects the central nervous system, causing abnormalities in the way pain is processed by the brain. The symptoms of fibro, unfortunately, lead to psychological distress, and patients are often “written off” as simply having a mood or personality disorder.
It is not uncommon for fibromyalgia patients to be diagnosed with cognitive impairments. It’s no wonder with what is being depleted from their bodies and the number of medications they are prescribed! They suffer what is called “fibro fog,” which impairs concentration, focus, and memory. The researchers at Rush Medical College in Chicago who presented the findings at the annual meeting wanted to analyze and address the extent of cognitive impairment in fibro patients compared to those with rheumatoid arthritis.
The scientists looked at 211 patients, 61 of which had rheumatoid arthritis and 150 of which had fibromyalgia. Cognitive functioning was assessed by using a questionnaire about experiencing symptoms of impaired mental function. This questionnaire was rated with patients reporting occurrence of symptoms on a scale from 1 (never) and progressing to 5 (all the time).
It was found, and not surprisingly, that patients with fibromyalgia had significantly higher scores of experiencing symptoms of cognitive impairment when compared to those with rheumatoid arthritis.
The following symptoms were determined to be worse in fibromyalgia patients:
- “Inability to recall known words.”
- “Mistaking numbers that look similar.”
- “Inability to write an idea down.”
- “Inability to retain patterns when adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing.”
- “Distraction by background noises.”
- “Difficulty following directions.”
- “Trouble following conversations.”
- “Becoming disruptive in conversations.”
- “Misremembering spelling of familiar words.”
- “Losing place while reading.”
- “Difficulty expressing thoughts verbally.”
- “Poor reading comprehension.”
- “Frustration when speaking.”
- “Difficulty concentrating.”
Sound familiar? Fibro fog is a very real problem in those with fibromyalgia, and I have found that the first thing that needs to be fixed is the problem with sleep. Most of my patients come to me with sleep disturbances (trouble falling or staying asleep, sleeping too much, excess daytime sleepiness, etc.). Poor quality sleep reduces the intensity of many of the symptoms. Restorative sleep is vital for life and health. It is when we restore our body’s natural chemical and hormonal make-up. Without enough restorative sleep, your body is not able to fully recuperate, and that, as you well know, will lead to further deterioration.
While there may not be a cure as yet for fibromyalgia and the physical and psychological distress it causes, there is absolutely a way to reverse and reduce your symptoms.
If you have any questions regarding this post, or any others on my site, I host a FREE Facebook LIVE each week, where I will answer one-on-one questions for people who are looking for alternative treatment methods or have any questions about my posts and recommendations.
Join me this Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST, 7 p.m. CST, 6 p.m., and 5 p.m. PST. ON FACEBOOK LIVE! If you haven’t already done so, you can register for the free Fibromyalgia Video Series by visiting: http://EndFibroNow.com
I look forward to answering any questions you may have.