Language Impairment in Fibromyalgia and CFS

If you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome and are frustrated by language problems, you are not alone! It's common for people with these conditions to find themselves searching their brains for simple words that they just can't remember. On other occasions, individuals with these diagnoses may find it hard to write or even understand language.

Woman talking to friends at breakfast table in nursing home
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With this review, learn why people with these disorders often have problems with language and possible treatments to remedy these impairments.


Language impairment is a symptom of fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). It's part of a cluster of symptoms known as "fibro fog" or brain fog.

We don't have evidence that these language impairments are tied to known disorders, but these problems are similar to those associated with a speech disorder called dysphasia (or aphasia, if it's severe.) Some fibromyalgia research shows a specific delay in name recall, similar to nominal dysphasia, which involves nouns.


Researchers don't yet know why people with FMS or ME/CMS may have language impairment. Dysphasia and aphasia are generally linked to brain injury or degeneration, such as from a stroke. However, we don't have evidence that FMS or ME/CFS can cause this type of degeneration.

Experts have several theories about possible contributing factors. They believe that a lack of restorative sleep can lead to these problems as well as abnormal cranial blood flow or volume. Brain abnormalities, premature brain aging or mental distraction due to pain may all cause language problems to develop as well.


Brain fog symptoms generally improve when pain and fatigue levels are well-treated. However, if you're having problems managing your condition, you do have several options for alleviating cognitive symptoms. Consult your physician, read medical books or search reputable websites for information on supplements, dietary changes and cognitive training for people with FMS or ME/CFS.

Impact on Your Life

Language problems can cause frustration and embarrassment. They tend to be unpredictable and can disrupt conversation at any time. They're often worse when we're under stress.

When you can't communicate effectively, it can be hard to maintain relationships or hold down a job. Sometimes, people may think you're drunk, disoriented, or just not very smart. It's possible to become fearful of communication, and the anxiety that causes can make the problem worse. It's important to manage your stress levels and learn to stay calm when your brain falters.

Coping With Language Impairment

Finding effective ways to cope with language impairment can help relieve some of the emotional and social impacts. For example, if you find it's easier to write than speak, you might have an easier time communicating via email or text whenever possible.

Make sure the people closest to you understand this symptom so they can be patient or help you out when you're struggling to find a word. At work, you can request a reasonable accommodation, such as getting instructions in writing instead of verbally.

With time, proper treatment and management and effective coping strategies, language impairments can become less of a problem. The key is to keep working and celebrate each small step forward.

3 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.
  1. Kravitz HM, Katz RS. Fibrofog and fibromyalgia: a narrative review and implications for clinical practice. Rheumatol Int. 2015;35(7):1115-25. doi:10.1007/s00296-014-3208-7

  2. Leavitt F, Katz RS. Speed of mental operations in fibromyalgia: a selective naming speed deficit. J Clin Rheumatol. 2008;14(4):214-8. doi:10.1097/RHU.0b013e31817a2472

  3. Ocon AJ. Caught in the thickness of brain fog: exploring the cognitive symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Front Physiol. 2013;4:63. doi:10.3389/fphys.2013.00063

Additional Reading
  • Luerding R, et al. Brain: A Journal of Neurology. 2008 Dec;131(Pt 12):3222-31.Working memory performance is correlated with local brain morphology in the medial frontal and anterior cingulate cortex in fibromyalgia patients.

  • Mountz JM, et al. Arthritis and Rheumatism. 1995 Jul;38(7):926-38.Fibromyalgia in women. Abnormalities of regional cerebral blood flow in the thalamus and the caudate nucleus are associated with low pain threshold levels.

  • Schmidt-Wilcke T, et al. Pain. 2007 Nov;132 Suppl 1:S109-16. Striatal grey matter increase in patients suffering from fibromyalgia--a voxel-based morphometry study.

  • Starlanyl, Devin J. "Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain For Doctors and Other Health Care Providers."

  • Burgmer M, et al. NeuroImage. 2009 Jan 15;44(2):502-8. Altered brain activity during pain processing in fibromyalgia.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Symptoms".
  • Cicerone et al., Evidence-based cognitive rehabilitation: Updated Review of the literature from 1998 to 2002. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2005 Vol 86; 1681-1692.
  • Cook DB, et al. NeuroImage. 2007 May 15;36(1):108-22. Functional neuroimaging correlates of mental fatigue induced by cognition among chronic fatigue syndrome patients and controls.
  • Emad Y, et al. The Journal of Rheumatology. 2008 Jul;35(7):1371-7. Hippocampus dysfunction may explain symptoms of fibromyalgia syndrome.
  • Jordan Lori and Hillis Argye. Disorders of speech and language: aphasia, apraxia and dysarthria. Current Opinion in Neurology 2006 19 (6): 580-585.

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