Memory loss and disorientation are two of the most challenging symptoms of fibromyalgia. Suddenly not knowing where you are can lead to embarrassment or even panic. Here are 6 tips recommended by experts to prevent and beat the brain fog caused by fibromyalgia.
Sometimes we forget grocery store items or loved ones’ birthdays, but for people with fibromyalgia, memory lapses occur more often and can be more severe.
This chronic pain disorder triggers sudden forgetfulness known as “fibro fog” or “brain fog” «. It changes cognitive functioning and leads to memory loss or other thought processing problems, says fibromyalgia expert Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of several books on fibromyalgia.
The cause of brain fog is unknown, but it is related to imbalances in the nervous system center, according to National Association of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Painand also with certain hormones.
Fibromyalgia symptoms can also cause episodic disorientation: 30 to 90 seconds of not knowing where you are or where you’re going, says Dr. Teitelbaum. That happens in a third of women with fibromyalgia, often when they’re heading off a freeway or shopping at the grocery store, he says.
Such cognitive problems may cause fibromyalgia patients to fear they are developing Alzheimer’s disease, but the two are not related, says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Brain fog can cause you to lose your keys,” he explains. “Alzheimer’s makes you forget how to use a key.” But you can relieve symptoms of brain fog. Here are 7 ways.
7 Ways to Beat Brain Fog Caused by Fibromyalgia
1. Get enough sleep
Fibromyalgia patients often start the day exhausted. They struggle not to fall and stay asleep and often suffer from a variety of sleep disorders.
Daily fatigue triggers cognitive problems, says Roland Staud, MD, a professor of medicine in the department of rheumatology at the University of Florida. So the more sleep deprived you are, the more fibromyalgia brain fog symptoms you will suffer from.
Maintaining healthy sleep habits can also help you rest better. Dr. Teitelbaum offers these tips:
- Place the bedroom clock out of arm’s reach and away from you so you can’t see it.
- Take a hot bath before bed.
- Don’t drink alcohol close to bedtime.
- Skip caffeine after 4 p.m.
2. Take ribose supplements
Ribose, a natural simple sugar, plays a key role in metabolism.
“Anything that improves energy production in cells helps brain cells,” says Dr. Teitelbaum.
Specifically, ribose is a component of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), considered the body’s energy molecule. ATP helps the body use key nutrients, like vitamin B1, that are necessary for proper brain function, he says.
Ribose improved mental clarity by an average of 30% in 203 patients after three weeks of use, according to a 2012 study published in The Open Pain Journal. It also increased energy by an average of 61%, says Dr. Teitelbaum, one of the lead researchers on the study.
Participants also reported a 37% increase in general well-being, a 29% improvement in sleep, and a 15% decrease in pain.
Give it a try: Take 5 grams (g) of ribose three times a day (15 grams total) for three weeks.
Then work your way up to 5g twice a day, “although you may find that 3g twice a day is enough to prevent mental cloudiness,” says Dr. Teitelbaum.
In addition to ribose, other supplements can support mental health and ease fibromyalgia symptoms.
Exercising can physically grow your brain. Exercise increases the right and left sides of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory, according to a 2011 study in the University of Illinois.
“The increased blood flow that occurs when our hearts pump faster improves concentration, learning, and memory,” says Marie Pasinski, MD, a neurologist at the HMassachusetts General Hospitalteacher of the Harvard Medical School and author of Beautiful Brain, Beautiful You (Hyperion).
Start slow, the Mayo Clinic suggests: maybe just 15 minutes of walking a day, gradually working up to 30 or 60 minutes.
Also try low-impact aerobic activities: swimming, cycling, or water aerobics. It may be helpful to work with a physical therapist who is experienced in training fibromyalgia patients.
Stay active throughout the day too. “Increasing your heart rate by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking faster, or standing up during phone calls improves mental clarity,” says Dr. Pasinski.
Y reduce TV time. It drains your energy and makes you even more tired and brain fogsays Dr. Pasinski. “Excessive viewing of television or screens is associated with depression, lower cognitive function, and a decline in overall physical health.”
4. Change your routine
A new daily routine challenges your mind and body.
“When we’re stuck in a rut, we’re constantly stepping on the same brain pathways,” says Dr. Pasinski. “Participating in a new activity literally wakes up our brains.”
That’s because the brain has to establish new neural pathways to process new information. Trade in the treadmill for a stationary bike, shop at a different store, take an alternate route home, or try a new recipe.
And get out of your social comfort zone. The next time you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store, start chatting with a trustworthy stranger. Meeting new people and participating in conversations forces your brain to pay attention.
5. Communicate with nature
Our modern lives, with computers, television, text messages, tweets, emails, and cell phone calls all at once, can overstimulate the brain and increase stress levels.
“Our brains can only hold one thought at a time,” says Dr. Pasinski. Constant interruptions interrupt our ability to focus, concentrate, and retain information.
Nature has a calming effect. So walk in the park, take the scenic route, stop to watch the sunset, or just gaze at the stars at night.
Spending time in green spaces decreases brain fog, according to a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers compared the brain wave patterns of participants who took a 25-minute walk through urban areas, versus another group who walked through a leafy park. They found that city walkers showed signs of frustration, while park walkers were mentally calmer and more thoughtful.
“The beauty of nature will give your prefrontal cortex, the area of your brain that helps you focus, a chance to recharge,” says Dr. Pasinski.
6. Practice yoga, tai chi, or mindfulness meditation
Relaxing activities such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation can improve sleep problems, fatigue, poor memory, and anxiety, all of which are related to brain fogaccording to many studies.
For example, 20 volunteers with fibromyalgia saw improvements in sleep, pain, and physical and mental functioning after practicing Qigong for eight weeks, according to a 2013 Canadian study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
And those who practiced the most had the best results, the researchers said. Sign up for classes at your local gym or pick up an instructional DVD.
If possible, practice outside, advises Dr. Teitelbaum. “Combining exercise with sunlight and fresh air can help reduce brain fog.”
How much do you know about fibromyalgia? Described by Hippocrates in ancient Greece, fibromyalgia is one of the world’s oldest medical mysteries. The disease, a complex disease characterized by chronic muscle, tendon and ligament pain, fatigue and multiple tender points on the body, affects approximately 2% of the population in the US alone, most of them women. How much do you know about fibromyalgia?