February 23, 2012

Pain That Makes It Hard to Think

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Cognitive impairment in fibromyalgia patients linked to pain level

(dailyRx News) A powerful headache can make it hard to think about anything else but how much it hurts. Now imagine trying to think with constant, widespread pain and exhaustion.

That's the experience of people with fibromyalgia. Many patients find themselves becoming forgetful, having difficulty concentrating, forgetting words, and processing things more slowly.

A new study finds that the degree of cognitive impairment for fibromyalgia patients is linked to the level of pain that they experience.

"Ask your doctor if medication may help reduce pain levels."

The study was led by Dr. Gustavo Reyes Del Paso of the University of Jaén, and presented at the Sixth World Congress of the World Institute of Pain. His team wanted to examine the connection between fibromyalgia and cognitive impairment, which has not been closely studied.

Fibromyalgia is often associated with depression, and anxiety. But a few studies have found that cognitive function – or how well the brain works – is not related to emotional disorders.

The condition is mysterious, and no one knows what causes it. But it's suspected that pain and blood pressure has an effect on cognitive abilities.

The researchers compared 35 fibromyalgia patients with 29 healthy people. Both groups were tested on a series of tests that measured how they performed on an arithmetic task. At the same time, their mental and cardiovascular states were assessed.

The fibromyalgia patients did worse across the board on the task. However, patients who were taking opiates to treat pain did significantly more calculations than those who weren't on medication.

The study builds on the mounting evidence that chronic pain is a critical factor in cognitive abilities. Depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders common in people with fibromyalgia play a secondary role when it comes to the brain.

Interestingly, high blood pressure contributed to lower performance in the healthy subjects, but not in the patient group. This relationship was previously known, but the fact that it's absent in the fibromyalgia patients points to a strange relationship between blood pressure and the central nervous system, according to the study.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
February 23, 2012

Last Updated:
February 23, 2012