BY WYATT REDD
There has been a longstanding connection between brain damage and fibromyalgia, but it is an area of both disorders that has come back to the forefront of research. Recent news articles about patients with undetected brain injuries being misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, and patients with fibromyalgia being diagnosed with brain damage as a result of the fibro are giving rise to new questions about diagnosis and treatment.
For too long, people who suffered with fibromyalgia were told its “all in their head,” now there is evidence that that is true to a greater extent than believed but not in the terms of psychology. A recent study documented changes to the amygdala in patients with fibromyalgia that qualify as organic brain damage. Understanding what brain damage is, and the kinds of brain injury that can cause it – is important to understanding how one can be misdiagnosed with either – and how one can create the other as well.
What is considered brain damage?
Brain damage is anything that disrupts the process of neurotransmitter function and neurochemical balance. It may or may not evidence itself in problems with cognition or motor control. Brain damage can be as obvious as loss of speech or control over a part of the body. It can be as subtle as losing control of the adrenal glands in response to infections. Detecting brain damage can be very difficult. EEGs are only considered about 50% reliable, and CAT/MRI scans do not pick up on all types of damage.
A neurologist may request a neuro-psych evaluation, which is not about a psychiatrist testing for mental illness, but is a system of cognition and behavioral testing that can isolate function abilities of the different areas of the brain to detect gray or white matter damage, potential imbalances and more that scans and other tests cannot detect. Brain injury can result from just about anything.
While it may be hard to break a skull, the brain itself is not secured and can move to swiftly in the skull as a result of impact or motion and create bruising or bleeding that results in brain damage. Brain damage can also occur as a result of chronic pain, infection and medications.
One of the most common types seen of brain damage and fibromyalgia combined is a result of neurotransmitter dysregulation. It doesn’t matter whether the brain injury or fibromyalgia came first, the fact that there is neurotransmitter issues can then easily create the other. Neurotransmitters are the process in which the brain takes in signals and formulates responses through learned action or biochemical reaction.
With a disease like fibromyalgia in which a whole disorder exists within the body, it makes sense that the neurotransmitters would become dysregulated as well, creating chronic pain, inflammation and all the rest of the cluster symptoms. With a brain injury, the neurotransmitter dysregulation can be the first domino to fall in the body that creates the cluster that becomes fibromyalgia.
The impact of chronic pain on the brain
Chronic pain can damage the brain. That is about as clearly and simply as it can be put. Not only is the brain being bathed in the positive neurochemicals that seek to help alleviate the pain, but the sympathetic nervous system is being over-stimulated.
This can increase the risk of damage and disruption occurring. Add into this that many pain medications have long term side effects that can reduce cognition and functioning, and making sure your brain is checked up as well as your body is going to be essential in identifying. The tests needn’t be done often. With each one you can identify methods and treatments to help you recover more and more of your quality of life so you don’t need to suffer any longer.
Fibro-fog – dealing the cognition problems
Where the largest connection between brain damage and fibromyalgia becomes apparent is in the classic symptom of the “fibro-fog.” Many people describe this as a state of feeling like you just can’t seem to wake up and are walking around in a fog. This is could be the result of a dysregulation in neurochemicals that is being caused by the fibromyalgia; it can also be a result of brain damage that is not detected. Unfortunately, it is something that can also occur from the long term experience of chronic pain and inflammation associated with fibromyalgia as well.
What you should do?
You should document any instance in your life where you may have suffered brain injury and show that to your doctor, as well as keeping a close eye on all of your fibromyalgia symptoms. Make sure to note down everything, even if it isn’t something you would normally relate to fibromyalgia – such as hand tremors, memory and balance. They could very well be a part of an issue within the brain that may or may not have been caused by the fibromyalgia.
You should also seek a second opinion from a neuro-psych if you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia as well. Neuro-psych evaluations look for issues in processing and behavior that can pinpoint areas of the brain that may be damaged that can elude the current brain scan technologies.
Make sure your doctor is looking at everything
Brain damage and fibromyalgia isn’t something that you can rule out just once. With most instances of brain injury, the full extent may not be known for several years – or be detectable by testing. Fibromyalgia can result from a brain injury, but it can also have its symptoms masked by brain damage too. You and your doctor should work together to create a holistic means of checking in with your symptoms and cross referencing them to make sure that what you are dealing with is a known issue. There is much that can be done to help alleviate the symptoms of brain damage and fibromyalgia, including effective life style changes that can bring more quality back to your day.
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