Data from a Spanish study, presented at the 4th World Congress on Controversies in Neurology, show that a high percentage of people with fibromyalgia do have measurable cognitive dysfunction. Researchers say this dysfunction should be classified as "mild cognitive disorder" under the World Health Organization (WHO) criteria, rather than simply "mild cognitive impairment."
Mild cognitive disorder includes memory impairment, difficulty learning and inability to concentrate. It can also include mental fatigue. It comes in 2 categories: "not associated with a physical disorder," and "associated with a physical disorder." In this instance, researchers are talking about the second kind, which can be the result of brain injury or known systemic disease. Researchers stress that this is not the same as dementia.
In the study, the greatest difference between healthy people and those with fibromyalgia was in what's called the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test, which measures:
- Short-term auditory/verbal memory (hearing and repeating)
- Rate of learning
- Ability to infer information
- Confusion in memory processes
- Differences between learning information and being able to retrieve it
Take Aways From This Study
Every one of the things on that list is a common symptom of fibromyalgia, yet our cognitive problems often take a back seat to our other symptoms. It's always great to have our problems validated by research, especially since our cognitive impairment isn't always evident in standard testing. However, this research goes a step beyond saying, "yes, you're impaired."
The suggestion that it be classified as mild cognitive disorders is a big deal -- that means it would be its own diagnosis. It lends credibility with the medical community and could be an enormous boon to people seeking treatment, getting insurance to cover treatment, and applying for disability benefits based on loss of cognitive function. It would also mean you could get reasonable accommodation at work based on this diagnosis alone.
In addition, this research was presented to an international conference of neurologists. Not psychologists, not rheumatologists -- neurologists. It's encouraging to me that the brain experts are the ones looking at our brains! The world's experts on the brain are seeing evidence that our brains are malfunctioning, and hopefully more of them will become interested in how and why, and what to do about it.
The one drawback of the mild cognitive disorder diagnosis is that it's grouped with conditions like organic anxiety disorder and schizophrenia-like delusions. However, that doesn't mean they think we're crazy! WHO classifies these all as conditions due to damage or physical disease. This is where the line between psychiatry and neurology gets blurred -- a lot of problems that once were considered psychological are now known to be physiological disorders; however, they've always been treated by psychiatrists and public perception of them is skewed.
Does this study confirm your experience with cognitive dysfunction? Is it encouraging to you? What kind of cognitive dysfunction is worst for you? Leave your comments below!
Learn more or join the conversation!
- Fibro Fog: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments
- Language Impairment in Fibromyalgia
- READERS RESPOND: Fibro Fog Stories
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