Fibromyalgia and ‘Brain Fog’
Do you sometimes feel spacey? Do you often find that while others are talking around you nothing is sinking in? Do you lose your train of thought mid-sentence?
These are but a few of the questions you can ask yourself if you suspect you have those terrible ‘brain fog’ experiences, says Dr. Keddy.
If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then you, like millions of others share a frustrating syndrome that is, like fibromyalgia itself, invisible.
Brain fog is not just an issue for those of us who suffer from fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue but can occur at different stages of life. For example, many new mothers complain about those same ‘symptoms’ but usually they are the result of lack of sleep and hormonal changes. Yet again, menopausal women often report brain fog associated with this time of their lives, no doubt due to hormonal changes, or hot flashes that result in lack of sleep.
Some people with diseases like multiple sclerosis also find that often they are plagued with a sensation of muddled thinking. And then there are the effects of the aging process when we seem to be perpetually forgetting things, like a person’s name, or words, or the names of objects, and we ask ourselves if we are developing the dreaded Alzheimer’s Disease.
It is reasonable to attribute much of that cloudy sensation (that some of the women whom I interviewed laughingly called ‘brain farts’) to a sleeping disorder or the poor quality of sleep that accompanies fibromyalgia. I suspect, however, that this fuzzy thinking is primarily the result of an over stimulated nervous system that can cause adrenal exhaustion. It seems to be worse at times of stress, over-tiredness or excitement.
What do I believe is the cause of this “brain fart” in the fibromyalgia sufferer? I think it begins in the adrenal glands, those little things that sit atop the kidneys.
The adrenal glands produce the hormone Cortisol which is a major hormone affecting the stress response of our bodies. Many of us believe that fibromyalgia is caused by an inability to calm the nervous system so that we are continuously hyper-aroused, rather than in a restful, calm state. The end result of this is an under-stimulation of the adrenal glands and subsequent loss of output of Cortisol, and finally, adrenal exhaustion.
Among the several effects of this condition are the severe chronic and acute aches and pains of fibromyalgia and, in particular, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which can cause spacy thinking, lack of clarity of thought, dizziness and the other general characteristics of brain fog. Needless to say, fatigue goes hand-in-hand with this whole process.
There are ways to somewhat counteract these unwelcome episodes, among which are avoiding stimulants like caffeine and increasing the intake of complex carbohydrates like grains while avoiding sugars like those found in candy and soft drinks. But, aside from food and drink, how do we cope with these flare-ups on a daily basis?
This foggy sensation gives the person a feeling of muddled and confused thinking which can be embarrassing. We are often forced into asking people to repeat the conversation and even then becoming frustrated with ourselves and why we just cannot ‘get it’! Learning new things, like a foreign language, catching on to simple jokes, or mastering new games like bridge and chess can be challenging. Couple this with aging and it often requires time out just to settle the mind.
How do we deal with all these invisible symptoms of fibromyalgia? I still cannot adequately answer this question in spite of living 40 years with fibromyalgia. Those of us dealing with this demon are usually taking pain medication like Lyrica or Neurontin. Others, who may be depressed because of the pain and/or sleep deprivation, are often on traditional or complementary herbs or pharmaceuticals for depression. However, what does a person do for brain fog, that elusive peculiar sensation of not always being in charge of your thoughts? The need to find answers to this question is critical because there is currently no medicine to treat this symptom.
Because we often look well it is not easy to explain to others how we suffer from pain, sleeping problems, perhaps depression, maybe intestinal disorders among a host of other chronic challenges. But, to add to that, we often lack concentration that directly affects others who expect more of us since we look so healthy!
In the absence of a proven remedy, I believe it is humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves that could save us at times when we lose our train of thought and appear spaced out to others.
Most importantly, gentle exercise, walking, strengthening weights if done slowly, Tai Chi, Pilates, or whatever best suits our life style and abilities certainly help.
I have written extensively on the particular challenges I have faced in incorporating these treatments into my daily life. It is my hope that you can learn from my years of experience as a fellow fibromyalgia sufferer and improve your quality of life.
About the Author:
Barbara Keddy, Ph.D., is author of the book “Women and Fibromyalgia: Living with an Invisible Dis-ease” which details her experiences with and knowledge of fibromyalgia. You can learn more about her at her web-site http://womenandfibromyalgia.com