Is Fibromyalgia Aging You?

A great many fibromyalgia patients suffer from cognitive functioning impairment. So many, in fact, that a nickname has been assigned to the condition: fibro-fog. Fibromyalgia patients who suffer from fibro-fog have trouble retrieving thoughts and sometimes feel as though their heads are stuffed with cotton. Well, it's no wonder, since one study showed that the brain of a fibromyalgia patient functions on a level 20 years older than its actual age.

Invisible Disease

In 2008, McGill University's M. Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D., found that there is a loss of gray matter in fibromyalgia patients. The loss of gray matter was found in many areas of those parts of the brain responsible for memory and pain. The study was a small one, but generated widespread attention, since any clinical findings for fibromyalgia lend credence to the syndrome often called the, "invisible disease."

If you suffer from fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) you are likely concerned about the meaning of this loss of gray matter. You may wonder if this loss is the cause of your pain or cognitive dysfunction. Bushnell's small study showed that the loss of gray matter increases the longer the patient has experienced symptoms.

Bushnell explains, “It is well documented that cognitive functions, such as speed of information processing, working memory, and long-term memory, decline continuously across the adult life span beginning in the second decade of life. So an obvious question arising from our preliminary findings is: ‘What is the relationship between accelerated brain aging in FMS patients and cognitive function?’"

Cognitive Impairment

To this end, Bushnell will be undertaking a larger study with the aim of examining how brain anatomy relates to cognitive functioning. She hopes to explore if and how the loss of gray matter translates to cognitive impairment. One goal of this new study will be to rule out fatigue and level of alertness as the cause of cognitive problems in FMS sufferers. Bushnell believes her work will show that the loss of gray matter causes heightened pain thresholds, lowered levels of physical functioning, and increased levels of fatigue.

One area of the study will be to examine how the widespread pain of FMS might be linked to cognitive dysfunction and the loss of gray matter. Does the pain interfere with the patient's ability to think? Also, how does this loss of gray matter relate to the severity of a patient's disability or the duration of his symptoms?

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