Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
October 6, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

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If you have fibromyalgia, you may be all too familiar with the phenomenon known as brain fog. This is a general term used to describe the cognitive difficulties that can come with the condition, such as trouble with memory, concentration, and word-finding.

Fibro fog can be extremely frustrating and can make your daily tasks much harder to accomplish.

The good news is that there are ways to cope with fibro fog and help make it more manageable.

In this article, we’ll explore fibromyalgia and the possible causes of brain fog in people with this condition and offer some tips on how to deal with it.

Let’s get started.

What is fibromyalgia, exactly?

Fibromyalgia, or fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a chronic condition that causes pain and stiffness in the muscles, joints, and tendons.

This condition can also lead to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sleep problems, mood issues, and problems with cognitive function.

Researchers believe that FMS affects the way your brain and spinal cord process painful and non-painful signals, making pain more intense—also known as abnormal pain perception processing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fibromyalgia affects 2% of the adult population in the United States alone.

What causes fibromyalgia syndrome?

While the exact cause of FMS is unknown, it is thought to be related to changes in the nervous system.

Some research suggests that fibromyalgia may be caused by an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

This theory is supported by the fact that people with FMS often have low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is known to play a role in pain perception and mood regulation.

Other possible causes of FMS include:

Repeated Nerve Stimulation

Researchers hypothesize that fibromyalgia may be caused by an abnormal increase of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain. This is thought to occur due to repeated nerve stimulation.

Repeated nerve stimulation can happen due to an injury, infection, or psychological stress. Once the nervous system is repeatedly stimulated, it may become more sensitive and overactive, leading to increased pain perception.

Genetics

FMS can also run in families, which suggests that there may be a genetic component to the condition.

Studies have found that people with first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) who have fibromyalgia are more likely to develop the condition themselves.

While genetics may play a role in FMS , it is essential to remember that the condition can still occur in people without a family history of the disorder.

So far, researchers have not identified a specific gene that is responsible for Fibromyalgia.

Sleep Problems

People with FMS often have difficulty sleeping. This can be due to pain, stress, and other sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea.

Studies have proven that poor sleep can lead to fatigue, which can exacerbate Fibromyalgia symptoms.

Conversely, FMS can also cause sleep problems by affecting the way your body transitions between different phases of sleep.

Hormonal Imbalance

Chronic stress has been linked to hormonal changes, in particular cortisol, which can cause fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain and tiredness.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps the body respond to potential threats. When cortisol levels are constantly high, as they are during chronic stress, it can lead to inflammation and pain.

Infections

Some research suggests that FMS may be triggered by an infection, such as a virus or bacteria.

One study found that people with Fibromyalgia were more likely to have had a previous viral infection or weak immune system than those without the condition.

It is thought that infections may trigger FMS by causing inflammation or damage to the nervous system.

Significant Psychological Stress

Psychological stress has also been linked to Fibromyalgia.

One study found that people with FMS were more likely to have experienced a stressful event, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or financial problems, in the year before their diagnosis.

Physical Trauma

A single traumatic event, such as a car accident or a hard fall, can trigger Fibromyalgia.

Research suggests that physical trauma may cause damage to the nervous system, which leads to FMS symptoms.

The severity of the condition varies, but it is usually less severe than that seen in individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Compression injuries caused by vehicular accidents or other events have been linked to fibromyalgia.

Surgery

FMS has also been linked to surgery. It is thought that the stress of surgery, as well as the anesthesia, can trigger Fibromyalgia symptoms.

One study found that people who underwent surgery were more likely to develop FMS than those who did not have surgery.

The risk was highest in those who had surgery that involved a long hospital stay, such as hip replacement surgery.

What are the symptoms of FMS?

In addition to muscle pain and stiffness, people with fibromyalgia may also experience the following:

  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • sleep problems
  • mood issues, such as depression and anxiety
  • cognitive impairment or memory problems (also known as brain fog or “fibro fog”)
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • digestive issues, such as constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain
  • painful menstrual cramps
  • numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • restless leg syndrome
  • facial pain and jaw problems, including jaw disorders like temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)

The symptoms of FMS can vary in intensity, and they may come and go. Fibro fog, for example, may be more pronounced when a person is experiencing a Fibromyalgia flare-up.

Flare-ups are periods when Fibromyalgia symptoms are worse than usual. They can be triggered by stress, changes in the weather, and other factors.

During a FMS flare-up, people may have difficulty performing everyday tasks, such as driving or going to work.

What are the risk factors of FMS?

There are a number of factors that may increase your risk of developing Fibromyalgia, including:

  • Age: FMS is most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50. However, it can occur in people of any age.
  • Gender: Studies show that FMS is more common in women than men.
  • Family history: Fibromyalgia seems to run in families, which suggests that there may be a genetic component to the condition.
  • Autoimmune diseases: FMS is more common in people with autoimmune illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Mental health conditions: FMS is also more common in people with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
  • Other underlying health conditions: FMS is often seen in people who have other health issues, such as musculoskeletal and skin diseases.

Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will develop Fibromyalgia. However, it does increase your chances of developing the condition.

What are the complications of FMS?

FMS can lead to a number of complications, such as:

Depression: FMS can cause or worsen depression. In fact, studies show that people with Fibromyalgia are more likely to suffer from depression than those without the condition.

Anxiety: FMS is also linked to anxiety. One study found that people with Fibromyalgia were more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders than those without the condition.

Sleep problems: FMS can cause a number of sleep problems, such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea. These sleep problems can make FMS symptoms worse.

Poor productivity at home and at work: FMS can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and working. This can lead to productivity problems at home and at work.

Isolation and lower quality of life: FMS can also lead to social isolation. This is because the condition can make it difficult to participate in activities with family and friends.

Higher rates of injuries and suicides: Fibromyalgia has also been linked to higher rates of injuries and suicides. This is likely due to the isolation, pain, and fatigue that are associated with the condition.

If you have FMS, it is important to talk to your doctor about ways to manage the condition and reduce your risk of complications.

How is FMS diagnosed?

There is no one test that can diagnose Fibromyalgia. Instead, doctors typically use a combination of medical history, physical exam, and laboratory tests to make a diagnosis.

Medical history: Your doctor will ask about your medical history and other symptoms. They may also ask about your family history of FMS and other conditions.

Physical exam: Your doctor will also perform a physical exam. During the exam, they will check for tender points. Tender points are specific areas of the body that are painful when pressure is applied.

Laboratory tests: In some cases, your doctor may also order laboratory tests, such as blood tests and X-rays. These tests can rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.

Once your doctor has ruled out other conditions, they will diagnose Fibromyalgia if you have the following:

  • Widespread pain for more than three months
  • Pain in at least 11 of 18 tender points
  • No other underlying medical condition that could cause your symptoms

If you think you may have FMS, it is essential to see a doctor. FMS is a chronic condition, which means it can last for years.

There is no cure for Fibromyalgia, but there are treatments that can help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

How to Treat or Manage FMS

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for FMS. Instead, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving quality of life.

Medications: There are a number of medications that can be used to treat FMS, including pain relievers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs.

Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help stretch and strengthen muscles, as well as improve range of motion.

Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy can teach you how to pace yourself and avoid activities that exacerbate your symptoms.

Aerobic Exercise: Exercise is an important part of FMS treatment. Aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming, can help improve Fibromyalgia symptoms.

Weight loss: If you are overweight, weight loss can help reduce FMS symptoms.

Stress reduction: Stress can make FMS symptoms worse. Stress reduction techniques, such as yoga and meditation, can help improve Fibromyalgia symptoms.

Alternative therapies: There are a number of alternative therapies that have been shown to be effective in treating FMS, including acupuncture, massage therapy, and aromatherapy.

If you have Fibromyalgia, it is important to talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for you.

So, what is brain fog, exactly?

Brain fog, or “fibro fog,” is a symptom of FMS that can cause memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and confusion.

Brain fog can make it difficult for you to think clearly and remember things. It can also cause problems with concentration and decision-making.

In severe cases, brain fog can make it difficult to carry out everyday tasks, such as driving or cooking.

How to Cope with Fibro Fog Effectively

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for FMS brain fog, but there are a number of things you can do to manage the condition and improve your quality of life.

Here are some tips for coping with fibro fog:

Prioritize the quality of your sleep

Getting enough quality sleep is essential for managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Establish a regular sleep routine and stick to it as much as possible.

Exercise regularly

Exercise can help improve FMS symptoms, including brain fog. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet can help you manage FMS symptoms. Avoid processed foods and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.

Make sure you’re getting enough brain-boosting nutrients

Certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, are essential for brain health. Make sure you’re getting enough of these nutrients by eating a healthy diet and taking supplements if needed.

Drink more water

Staying hydrated is important for Fibromyalgia symptoms. Aim to drink eight glasses of water per day.

Train your brain regularly.

Just like you exercise your body, you need to exercise your brain. Try activities that challenge your mind, such as puzzles or crosswords.

Get organized

Make sure to keep track of important dates, appointments, and tasks. A planner or online calendar can be helpful.

Take breaks

When you are feeling foggy, take a break from mental activities. Take a walk, listen to music, or do something that relaxes you.

Simplify your life

If possible, simplify your schedule and commitments. Cut back on extracurricular activities and focus on what is most important to you.

Talk to your doctor

If fibromyalgia is causing problems with work, school, or daily life, talk to your doctor. They can offer suggestions and resources that can help.

Concluding Thoughts

Fibromyalgia is a condition that can cause a variety of symptoms, including brain fog. Brain fog can make it difficult to think clearly, remember things, and concentrate.

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for fibromyalgia, but there are a number of things you can do to manage the condition and improve your quality of life. These include getting enough quality sleep, exercising, and eating a healthy diet.

Additionally, you can try some brain-training exercises and simplify your schedule to help you cope with fibro fog.

If fibromyalgia is causing problems with your work, school, or daily life, talk to your doctor. They can offer suggestions and resources that can help.

And if you want to learn more about clearing brain fog naturally and improving your overall brain health, we have plenty of helpful resources on our blog

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