Fibromyalgia affects mental health of those diagnosed and their spouses, study finds

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Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes chronic, widespread pain throughout the body. In a new study, University of Missouri researchers are examining how the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia can affect marriages. Initial findings reveal that diagnosed spouses have considerably higher levels of depressive symptoms and pain and report more marital instability and anger than their spouses. For both spouses, the symptoms can trigger increased emotional withdrawal and mental strain.

“Preliminary research suggests that fibromyalgia is very hard on both spouses because their lives are changed dramatically,” said Christine Proulx, assistant professor of human development and family studies in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. “There appears to be a strong link between fibromyalgia and feelings of depression and fatigue, which can be debilitating for those diagnosed and their marriages. The mental strain felt by both spouses can negatively affect marital quality.”

Proulx found that individuals with fibromyalgia were almost three-times more depressed than their spouses. The diagnosed spouses reported higher levels of marital instability and more marital anger, indicating they were more likely to consider divorce than their spouses. The healthy spouses reported that it was difficult to watch their spouses experience pain.

“Both spouses are put in difficult positions when one partner is diagnosed with fibromyalgia,” Proulx said. “Spouses must balance the presence of the disease, which can produce hostility or withdrawn behavior in the marriage, with the difficulty of being sick or being supportive to the spouse who is sick. These factors can create a cycle that can be very negative if it can’t be broken.”

In the study, Proulx is studying the interactions of married couples that include one spouse who has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or chronic widespread pain. The spouses record diary entries about their marital interactions and personal feelings. Proulx is examining the associations between marital quality, daily interactions, social support and the spouses’ personal well-being.

Fibromyalgia is controversial because there is no consensus on the cause of the chronic pain symptoms it causes, Proulx said. It has no cure, so many of the couples who participated in the study reported that they were constantly trying different treatments to manage the symptoms.

Findings from the pilot study, “Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, and Marriage: A Daily Diary Pilot Study,” were presented last November at the National Council of Family Relations Conference.

Mental Effects of Fibromyalgia

Q1. Can fibromyalgia cause depression?

Depression is not uncommon among people with fibromyalgia. It can be managed with lifestyle changes — include eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise — counseling and medication.

Staying active can help ease depression and anxiety. Exercise boosts endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in your brain.

Talk with your doctor or other healthcare provider if you are experiencing any signs of depression. These include persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety, loss of interest in normal activities, extreme tiredness and withdrawal from your social life. Your doctor can prescribe medication and help you get counseling. Don’t suffer in silence because your symptoms could get worse.

Q2. What are the mental effects of fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia can make you feel like you’ve got a head full of feathers. People who develop fibromyalgia sometimes complain that they become forgetful and have the attention span of a squirrel. These mental effects are known informally as fibro fog, though doctors have begun calling this problem dyscognition.

No one is sure what causes fibro fog, but some researchers believe that your brain may become distracted by pain. As a result, you have fewer mental resources available to cope with daily functioning, like remembering where you parked the car or why you walked into a room. If you’ve been feeling foggy lately, tell your doctor.

Q3. What is fibro fog?

The term fibro fog refers to patients who have fibromyalgia that exhibit central cognitive issues surrounding memory, concentration or thinking clearly.

Fibromyalgia is generally however a complex of widespread pain areas located over points of the body and fatigue.

Fibro fog is a variable component of this chronic pain syndrome.

Q4. How can I best deal with fibro fog?

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Here’s a hint: if you’re looking for yourreading glasses and finally find them in your sock drawer, right next to a bowl of ice cream, you may have fibro fog. Here are some of my favorite tips for dealing with fibro fog:

  • Write it down. Keep a pencil and pad of paper near your desk to write down reminders. You may write down phone numbers, important appointments, items needed from the store — whatever you need to remember, write it down. Then transfer this information to the appropriate place, whether your smart phone’s phone book, your calendar, or a grocery list, so you don’t forget these later on.

 

  • Stay organized. Keep your car keys in the same place when you get home. Put your grocery list on your kitchen counter and don’t move it. Stick several pairs of reading glasses in certain locations — your bedside table, the den, your office — so you know where they are all the time.

 

  • Stay focused. Eliminate distractions if you are paying your bills or working. Turn off the TV and radio. You’re more likely to forget something if you are distracted.

 

  • Use a kitchen timer to remind you of time. This is really helpful if you need to leave for an appointment in 30 minutes. Just set the timer, and let it jolt you when it is time to leave.

Q5. What brain changes are associated with fibromyalgia pain?

Researchers have concluded that those with fibromyalgia have significantly less blood flow to the parts of the brain that deal with pain. In studies where fibromyalgia patients were compared to healthy people, those with FMS were found to have twice the level of a brain chemical called Substance P, a neuropeptide involved in pain signals. This chemical helps nervous system cells send messages to each other about painful stimuli. It is thought that when P levels are elevated in the body, they may produce higher levels of pain.

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