Fibromyalgia Fog, Low Blood Flow & Problems with Math

Bran scans reveal connections and inadequacies

Digital Vision/Getty Images
Digital Vision/Getty Images

When you have fibro fog — the type of cognitive dysfunction linked to fibromyalgia — it could be because certain parts of your brain aren't getting enough blood to function properly. That's according to a study published in August 2014.

In the study, researchers used a type of brain imaging called functional transcranial Doppler sonography, which allows them to measure blood flow in real time. In this case, they used it to analyze changes in the blood flow of participants who had fibromyalgia, as well as healthy people in a control group, while they did math problems.

Blood-Flow Changes Observed

In the healthy people, shortly after they began doing the math problems, blood flow increased in the middle and anterior cerebral arteries. The amount of blood-flow increase was greater in those who performed better. That's the kind of response they'd expect in a brain that is functioning properly.

In those with fibromyalgia, however, the change in blood flow through those same arteries was much smaller. Also, unlike in controls, the arteries in the right hemisphere showed a greater response than those in the left hemisphere. They also found a correlation with pain severity: the people who had the worst fibromyalgia pain has the least amount of change in their blood flow. Further, those same people did the worst when it came to figuring out the math problems.

What It Means

This study seems to suggest that those of us with fibromyalgia have problems with these types of tasks because we're not getting enough blood flow to the areas of our brains, which means our brains just can't handle the tasks.

This work also helps confirm something researchers (and people with fibromyalgia) have suspected for a long time — that pain and cognitive function are intrinsically linked to this conditions.

How This Finding Could Help You

It's not as if we can force more blood into the right areas of our brain to make them work better. However, this research may be able to help some of us when it comes to legal matters.

For example, if you're trying to get reasonable accommodation at work based on impaired math skills, or possibly for other cognitive deficits caused by fibromyalgia, you may be able to use this study as evidence of the validity of your problems.

It could help those seeking disability benefits as well, in cases where math skills are essential to the person's job.

When it comes to treatment, this research could lead researchers to explore medications or other treatments that can increase blood flow to the brain.

Prior Research

This isn't the first study to reveal this type of blood-flow abnormality. A 2012 study also pointed to problems with cranial blood flow in fibromyalgia.

In that study, researchers induced pain by applying heat to the arms of participants. They then observed an increased flow of blood in the anterior cerebral arteries — the same ones that had reduced blood flow during the newer study.

Those arteries carry blood to the front of the brain, to areas that are known to deal with the emotional and cognitive aspects of pain. Researchers concluded that the abnormally high blood flow demonstrated hyperactive processing.

Fibro fog can range from mild to severe, depending on the person, and the severity of individual symptoms can go up and down considerably. Many of us count it as one of our most debilitating symptoms, especially when it comes to our ability to hold a job or go to school.

Every study that shines a light on this pervasive symptom puts us a step closer to finding ways to combat the fog and regain our cognitive function.

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