Is Driving Safe With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Do you sometimes wonder whether it's safe for you to drive? Many of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome do. In fact, some people with these conditions decide to stop driving because of their symptoms.

Woman behind the wheel of a car
Milenko Bokan / Getty Images

Does that mean all of us should stay out from behind the wheel? Not at all. It depends on your specific symptoms and their severity.

When considering this important question, some basic questions to ask yourself include:

  • Can I focus well enough to drive, in spite of pain, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and other symptoms?
  • How likely am I to fall asleep while driving?
  • What other symptoms may impact my driving, how severe are they, and can they be managed?

One of the biggest causes of driving concerns is cognitive dysfunction, aka brain fog or fibro fog. In addition, some people worry about panic attacks while some have problems with balance and dizziness. 

Cognitive Dysfunction & Driving

Cognitive dysfunction is actually an umbrella term for several symptoms that negatively impact the way our brains work. The specific symptoms that can lessen our ability to drive include:

It's bad enough when fog strikes while, say, walking through a store. When it hits while you're behind the wheel of the vehicle, it can be terrifying.

It's fairly common to hear someone with these illnesses talking about driving somewhere they've been a hundred times, only to suddenly forget where they are, where they're going, and why. Or, at times, we may forget a familiar route, get lost, and have no ability to orient ourselves.

It's also common to hear about suddenly blanking on smaller things as well, such as how to properly change lanes, how to navigate a difficult area, or even how to turn on the windshield wipers.

These events may be more common if you're distracted, thanks to the problems we can have multitasking. Passengers, the phone, or a favorite song on the radio may pull your focus away from driving, and leave you struggling to get your bearings.

Anxiety Attacks

For those of us who are prone to anxiety attacks, a bad brain-fog episode while driving can certainly be enough to trigger one. However, other factors can lead to anxiety as well, including running late, hitting heavy traffic, or the baby crying in the backseat.

When you're shaking, dizzy, feel out of control, and can't catch your breath, you're hardly in a state to drive safely. People who've had panic attacks while driving can become afraid that it will happen again, leading to a fear response that makes the situation more likely.

Dizziness & Balance Problems

Dizziness and loss of balance are common problems in us, especially those with chronic fatigue syndrome. Often, it's tied to changing positions—such as from sitting or lying down to standing. That's seldom a problem while driving. Other people, though, have more regular dizzy spells. It depends a lot on which condition you have, as dizziness in fibromyalgia has different causes than dizziness in chronic fatigue syndrome.

As with cognitive dysfunction and panic attacks, a dizzy spell while driving can be scary and hamper your abilities. If you have a tendency to faint, it becomes more important to consider whether driving is a good idea for you.

A Word From Verywell

If these symptoms are problems for you, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider about them. He or she may be able to help you find treatments that eliminate or alleviate the symptoms enough for you to drive safely.

If not, you may need to seriously consider whether you should be operating a vehicle. It's not an easy decision and means facing the loss of freedom and independence.

You may want to include people close to you in the decision. Ask if they feel safe riding with you, or whether they've seen you make questionable decisions.

In the end, it's a decision only you can make, as you are the only one who knows the nature and severity of your symptoms as well as your options for transportation if you do give up driving. Be sure you consider all the options available in your community when it comes to public transportation as well as transportation services for the disabled.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cognitive impairment: Call for action, now!

  3. Lim TS, Iaria G, Moon SY. Topographical disorientation in mild cognitive impairment: a voxel-based morphometry study. J Clin Neurol. 2010;6(4):204-11. doi:10.3988/jcn.2010.6.4.204

  4. Arthritis Association. Chronic fatigue syndrome.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.