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Cognitive and Dissociative Manifestations in Fibromyalgia

Leavitt, Frank; Katz, Robert S.; Mills, Megan; Heard, Amy R.

JCR: Journal of Clinical Rheumatology: April 2002 - Volume 8 - Issue 2 - p 77-84
Original Articles

Memory decline and mental confusion frequently complicate the clinical presentation of fibromyalgia; however, formal cognitive examination often does not support deterioration. This paradox was examined in the context of dissociation, a condition with many cognitive similarities. Dissociation refers to the separation of parts of experience from the mainstream of consciousness. A common example is highway hypnosis. Eighty-nine fibromyalgia (FM) patients and 64 other rheumatic disease patients were screened for memory decline and mental confusion using a questionnaire format. Pain, dissociation, affective distress, fatigue, sleep difficulty, and mental confusion were also assessed.

Cognitive complaints (76.4%–43.8%) and dissociative symptoms (37.1%–1.9%) were overrepresented in patients with FM. Among FM patients with high dissociation, cognitive difficulties were reported by 95%; 100% of these cases reported that both memory and mental clarity were affected, a condition referred to as fibrofog. Dissociation in combination with fibrofog was associated with higher levels of FM symptom intensity and decreased mental well being. These findings suggest that dissociation may play a role in FM symptom amplification and may aid in comprehending the regularity of cognitive symptoms. Separating cases of fibrofog from cognitive conditions with actual brain damage is important. It may be prudent to add a test of dissociation as an adjunct to the evaluation of FM patients in cases of suspected fibrofog. Otherwise, test results may prove normal even in patients with disabling cognitive symptoms.

Department of Psychology (FL, MM) and Section of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine (RSK), Rush Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (ARH), University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle, Washington.

Address correspondence to: Frank Leavitt, PhD, Department of Psychology, Rush Medical College, 1653 West Congress Parkway, Chicago, IL 60612-3833. Phone: 312-942-5935; Fax: 312-942-4990. E-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.