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Adrienne Dellwo

Does Brain Fog from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Start in the Heart?

By November 28, 2012

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Research Brief

New research suggests that the cognitive function ("brain fog") of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) may be due to irregularities in the heart, which in turn stem from impaired vagus nerve activity.

Brain fog is one of the most pervasive symptoms of ME/CFS, and it can be a major debilitating factor. Brain fog can include short-term memory problems, inability to multitask, comprehension difficulties, language problems, and disorientation.

In the study, researchers monitored cardiac activity while participants performed cognitive tasks. They found:

  • People with ME/CFS were slower than healthy controls
  • Heart-rate variability was low and unresponsive in the ME/CFS group
  • The heart rate was more reactive after cognitive challenges
  • Heart-rate recovery was slow after cognitive challenges
  • Heart-rate variability was an accurate predictor of cognitive outcome

Those cardiac functions are regulated by the vagus nerve. Dysfunction of the vagus nerve has long been suspected in ME/CFS, especially when it involves a symptom called neurally mediated hypotension (dizziness upon standing due to a sudden drop in blood pressure.)

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Comments
November 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm
(1) greybeh says:

Hrm. I always thought it would be linked to sleep troubles.

I apparently have sleep apnea and am being treated for it and have much less trouble with brain fog. Prior to my sleep apnea diagnosis, I had fibromyalgia-like symptoms (unpredictable pain that moves around the body, stabbing/stinging/tingling/achy sensations along with non-restorative sleep and brain fog).

They don’t tell you that folks with sleep apnea can have these symptoms, too. Sleep apnea is under-diagnosed and I never would have thought I’d had it because I have NO awareness of my micro-awakenings.

Well… since sleep apnea is known to possibly affect the heart, could it be that it’s a multi-faceted relationship? Sleep can affect the heart, which can affect brain function? Just a thought.

November 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm
(2) greybeh says:

Hrm. I always thought it would be linked to sleep troubles.

I apparently have sleep apnea and am being treated for it and have much less trouble with brain fog. Prior to my sleep apnea diagnosis, I had fibromyalgia-like symptoms (unpredictable pain that moves around the body, stabbing/stinging/tingling/achy sensations along with non-restorative sleep and brain fog).

They don’t tell you that folks with sleep apnea can have these symptoms, too. Sleep apnea is under-diagnosed and I never would have thought I’d had it because I have NO awareness of my micro-awakenings.

Well… since sleep apnea is known to possibly affect the heart, could it be that it’s a multi-faceted relationship? Sleep can affect the heart, which can affect brain function? Just a thought.

I know we are talking about CFS/ME… and I’m talking about fibromyalgia but they are sort of like sister-illnesses in that they share a lot of common symptoms.

November 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm
(3) greybeh says:

Hrm. I always thought it would be linked to sleep troubles.

I apparently have sleep apnea and am being treated for it and have much less trouble with brain fog. Prior to my sleep apnea diagnosis, I had fibromyalgia-like symptoms (unpredictable pain that moves around the body, stabbing/stinging/tingling/achy sensations along with non-restorative sleep and brain fog).

They don’t tell you that folks with sleep apnea can have these symptoms, too. Sleep apnea is under-diagnosed and I never would have thought I’d had it because I have NO awareness of my micro-awakenings.

Well… since sleep apnea is known to possibly affect the heart, could it be that it’s a multi-faceted relationship? Sleep can affect the heart, which can affect brain function? Just a thought.

I know we are talking about CFS/ME… and I’m talking about fibromyalgia but they are sort of like sister-illnesses in that they share a lot of common symptoms.

November 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm
(4) greybeh says:

Hrm. I always thought it would be linked to sleep troubles.

I apparently have sleep apnea and am being treated for it and have much less trouble with brain fog. Prior to my sleep apnea diagnosis, I had fibromyalgia-like symptoms (unpredictable pain that moves around the body, stabbing/stinging/tingling/achy sensations along with non-restorative sleep and brain fog).

They don’t tell you that folks with sleep apnea can have these symptoms, too. Sleep apnea is under-diagnosed and I never would have thought I’d had it because I have NO awareness of my micro-awakenings.

Well… since sleep apnea is known to possibly affect the heart, could it be that it’s a multi-faceted relationship? Sleep can affect the heart, which can affect brain function? Just a thought.

I know we are talking about CFS/ME… and I’m talking about fibromyalgia but they are sort of like sister-illnesses in that they share a lot of common symptoms.

November 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm
(5) greybeh says:

Hrm. I always thought it would be linked to sleep troubles.

I apparently have sleep apnea and am being treated for it and have much less trouble with brain fog. Prior to my sleep apnea diagnosis, I had fibromyalgia-like symptoms (unpredictable pain that moves around the body, stabbing/stinging/tingling/achy sensations along with non-restorative sleep and brain fog).

They don’t tell you that folks with sleep apnea can have these symptoms, too. Sleep apnea is under-diagnosed and I never would have thought I’d had it because I have NO awareness of my micro-awakenings.

Well… since sleep apnea is known to possibly affect the heart, could it be that it’s a multi-faceted relationship? Sleep can affect the heart, which can affect brain function? Just a thought.

I know we are talking about CFS/ME… and I’m talking about fibromyalgia but they are sort of like sister-illnesses in that they share a lot of common symptoms.

November 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm
(6) greybeh says:

Hrm. I always thought it would be linked to sleep troubles.

I apparently have sleep apnea and am being treated for it and have much less trouble with brain fog. Prior to my sleep apnea diagnosis, I had fibromyalgia-like symptoms (unpredictable pain that moves around the body, stabbing/stinging/tingling/achy sensations along with non-restorative sleep and brain fog).

They don’t tell you that folks with sleep apnea can have these symptoms, too. Sleep apnea is under-diagnosed and I never would have thought I’d had it because I have NO awareness of my micro-awakenings.

Well… since sleep apnea is known to possibly affect the heart, could it be that it’s a multi-faceted relationship? Sleep can affect the heart, which can affect brain function? Just a thought.

I know we are talking about CFS/ME… and I’m talking about fibromyalgia but they are sort of like sister-illnesses in that they share a lot of common symptoms.

November 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm
(7) greybeh says:

Hrm. I always thought it would be linked to sleep troubles.

I apparently have sleep apnea and am being treated for it and have much less trouble with brain fog. Prior to my sleep apnea diagnosis, I had fibromyalgia-like symptoms (unpredictable pain that moves around the body, stabbing/stinging/tingling/achy sensations along with non-restorative sleep and brain fog).

They don’t tell you that folks with sleep apnea can have these symptoms, too. Sleep apnea is under-diagnosed and I never would have thought I’d had it because I have NO awareness of my micro-awakenings.

Well… since sleep apnea is known to possibly affect the heart, could it be that it’s a multi-faceted relationship? Sleep can affect the heart, which can affect brain function? Just a thought.

I know we are talking about CFS/ME… and I’m talking about fibromyalgia but they are sort of like sister-illnesses in that they share a lot of common symptoms.

November 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm
(8) greybeh says:

Hrm. I always thought it would be linked to sleep troubles.

I apparently have sleep apnea and am being treated for it and have much less trouble with brain fog. Prior to my sleep apnea diagnosis, I had fibromyalgia-like symptoms (unpredictable pain that moves around the body, stabbing/stinging/tingling/achy sensations along with non-restorative sleep and brain fog).

They don’t tell you that folks with sleep apnea can have these symptoms, too. Sleep apnea is under-diagnosed and I never would have thought I’d had it because I have NO awareness of my micro-awakenings.

Well… since sleep apnea is known to possibly affect the heart, could it be that it’s a multi-faceted relationship? Sleep can affect the heart, which can affect brain function? Just a thought.

I know we are talking about CFS/ME… and I’m talking about fibromyalgia but they are sort of like sister-illnesses in that they share a lot of common symptoms.

November 30, 2012 at 8:24 pm
(9) curls says:

Interesting. I’d kind of heard the connection to heart before. This is more outlined, and interesting that a study can correlate them. Doesn’t mean ones a cause of the other though. Could be one cause of two things. Hope they figure out more

November 30, 2012 at 8:25 pm
(10) curls says:

Interesting. I’d kind of heard the connection to heart before. This is more outlined, and interesting that a study can correlate them. Doesn’t mean ones a cause of the other though. Could be one cause of two things. Hope they figure out more

Now it’s telling me this is duplicate and won’t post it?

December 1, 2012 at 12:47 am
(11) JennyG says:

Very interesting. Adrienne, you really dig up some cool stuff (I’d like to find a better description, but my brain fog prevents it). I keep relying on this blog because it consistently addresses ideas/possible connections that I don’t see anywhere else. It gives me hope that researchers out there are actually going to get some of our issues figured out.

The vagus nerve thing happens to be a very real problem for me recently. When I get too full or have excess air in stomach, my heart flutters and pounds. I know there’s a connection, but my doctor has been no help. Since I also have a foggy brain, this article makes me think I’d better keep digging and looking for information that might help me (and my doctor) better understand what’s going on. As always–thanks, Adrienne!

December 1, 2012 at 1:48 am
(12) Bec says:

I know i’m always alot worse when my sleep is worse than normal but then i also feel “flutterly” in the chest when i’m like that too so maybe it is the heart. I was recently checked for sleep aponey (i scored 22/24 on the test) but it came back with only very mild and if i loose some weight it will probally disappear all together so not sure where to go to from here with the sleep issues????

December 1, 2012 at 2:57 am
(13) Andrew Porter says:

My heart was fine, my adrenal profile in terms of DHEA and cortisol was also fine, but my EEG showed that I was lacking deep sleep. In addition, a low heart rate, low blood pressure, (92/72) and low pulse pressure, 20mmHg. The significant finding was low Aldosterone levels, half the minimum expected for the one adrenal output that was not originally measured. This means loss of sodium, low blood pressure, low pulse pressure, a failure to constrict peripheral blood vessels causing low blood pressure, and feeling faint when standing, all due to reduced blood supply to the brain! A dry mouth after I do sleep, indicative of incorrect breathing when asleep. I would therefore suggest that with such low blood and pulse pressure, leading to lower body pooling of blood, causes a significant problem.

One patient with this problem was treated with Fludrocortisone for three months, Fludrocortisone being replacement Aldosterone, and they lost their symptoms.

The problem may not be where many originally consider, and it took, in my case, a medical doctor prepared to conduct further tests. In addition, using a blood pressure meter at home means that the impact of the treatment on blood pressure and pulse pressure can be monitored to prove that it is working.

December 1, 2012 at 8:19 am
(14) Lady Di says:

Adrienne, it would be helpful to know what study you are referring to. I do not rely on information from a study until I know the perimeters of the study, the criteria used, the number of participants and who authored the study. There are many studies that do not meet the requirements for a factual medical study so it helps to be able to refer directly to the study to determine if it is a study that I can rely on.
Thankyou.

December 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm
(15) sue smith says:

Vitamin b12 has really helped my fibromyalgia with the right dose (1000mg) and a b complex – I wish I would have known this years ago. Also, I take an anti-depressant in the morning because it was keeping me up at nite – not much insomnia but it takes a while to fall asleep even with trazadone.

December 2, 2012 at 11:58 am
(16) Susan says:

Interesting comments. I know that my heart issues, fibro, brain fog, and sleep problems al started at about the same time. Kind of like the chicken and the egg-not sure which came first.

December 2, 2012 at 5:04 pm
(17) MK Gilbert says:

I have the dizziness when I get up suddenly, and when I lay down sometimes, but my resting pulse is often too high, and I get palpitations when I lay down. I was on a beta-blocker for a few months which helped my heart calm down, but it caused bi-polar like mood swings which made it seem like the SADD extended into the summer~Had to figure that out myself~symptoms stopped as soon as I quit the med. Have taken Cymbalta for several yrs, which barely keeps me sane in the winters anymore~just going thru a few weeks of severe depression and winter has barely started. Makes life seem unbearable…Which I WAS a bear so I could hibernate! Found out recently that I have a glitch in my EKG (prolonged Q-T segment) which is part of the reason I over-react to so many meds and even herbal supps. They did a Halter monitor for 24 hrs which showed my pulse between 60 & 138. Resting pulse is usually between 80 & 110…cardiologist didn’t seem to think it was cause for worry, but the palpitations aggravate the insomnia. Last few weeks I’ve had a terrible time getting to sleep even tho I feel totally wiped out all the time. Have had the severe fatigue for 25 yrs, with fibro symptoms coming on more gradually…This severe depression is making my life not worth living but the last 2 times the stupid Dr’s trying switching me to another anti-depressant (taking me off Cymbalta cold turkey!) it was a total disaster~crying spells, severe irritability made me have to isolate myself. Haven’t been able to work even part-time for several yrs, don’t have health insur but don’t qualify for any type of assistance…my hubby is self-employed and we’re a month behind on all our bills. I feel like I don’t have a friend in the world.

December 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm
(18) ssw says:

After bad medical treatment by a ‘specialist’, my allergic-to-everything-switch turned up to extreme. No one could help, as usual, but over time I worked out I had developed a huge adverse reaction to fructose. I worked out what I could eat (no easy task since fructose is in virtually every food, and especially the ones ‘specialists’ insist we should be eating most of) and over a reasonably short time, my allergic responses decreased significantly. Obviously I was doing something good for my body – although my diet is ‘offically’ crappy.

BUT AN UNEXPECTED SIDE EFFECT! The brain fog I’d been suffering with increasingly for many years vanished! And as long as I continue to avoid as much as possible all that fructose food, my mind and cognitive processes are as sharp as they have ever been. I’ve had my brain back for at least a year now.

When I try to sneak fructose foods back into the diet (just to see how it goes, or for the thrill of the taste knowing I’ll suffer an allergic response for my brazen behaviour), I can sometimes actually ‘feel’ the fog descend a bit, leading me to believe the link is direct and immediate.

So, just me and my particular M.E./fibro? Does it apply to all? Does it apply to all ‘brain fog’ illness, such as dementia? Maybe……

If anyone is thinking of trying this, the food issues are difficult and challenging, but the blessing of no brain fog is well worth it – for me anyway. A trial of a week or so, perhaps less, will give you a definite indication of whether your fog is lifting.

Good luck to all of us and our never-ending struggles.

December 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm
(19) ALISON KAISER says:

well i have to wonder now, because as a teenager i had significant vaso-vagal syncope, i was passing out about 4x/day. I was dx w/fibro in my late 20s.

December 8, 2012 at 2:03 am
(20) sr says:

ssw, please give us an idea of your diet.

December 19, 2012 at 2:38 am
(21) ssw says:

Avoid fruit & veg, grains, processed foods, manufactured foods and vitamins, and for me, baking soda. No packaged foods, dried foods, nuts, spices, herbs, etc. No pre-cooked food. (I ask my local Chinese food takeaway to do a special beef stir fry with broccoli and celery once a week.) Use only additive-free salt.

INCREASE glucose, found in sucrose (white sugar), with any fructose food, as it counteracts the effects of fructose. I eat chocolate with hazelnuts with every meal. I found a good wholemeal bread mix to which I add sugar. Sprinkle white sugar freely. Some full sugar sodas go down ok.

I can have a bit of broccoli or part of an orange or some banana or some white potato from time to time (always followed by choc/haz).

Protein foods seem mainly okay, but beware additives, farmed fish, chemical chickens, supermarket meats. Eggs are good. Some tinned tuna – drain, then re-soak in fresh water.

This has worked wonders for me, but it took a long time refining my diet, and I continue to do so. But many of my allergic reactions have receded, and the years of ‘brain fog’ vanished.

Here’s the dilemma: ‘Good’ diet & suffer allergic reactions, brain fog, increasing difficulty wanting to remain in this body. ‘Bad’ diet & have decreased allergic reactions, sharp cognition, a sweet tooth, the possibility of bad teeth and perhaps other health issues, always struggling with diet, but sustained interest in remaining in this body a while longer. Decisions, decisions…

I’ve been struggling with m.e./fibro for nearly 3 decades & I’ve had to learn to live one day at a time. Now that I have a decent brain again, there’s no contest. Bad diet, and damn the specialists!

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