Subjective Cognitive Dysfunction in Patients With and Without Fibromyalgia: Prevalence, Predictors, Correlates, and Consequences

Frederick Wolfe*, Johannes J. Rasker (Hans), Peter M. ten Klooster, Winfried Häuser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Subjective cognitive dysfunction (SCD) is common in fibromyalgia (FM), where it has been called 'fibrofog.' But its predictors and correlates are not well understood, including the extent to which SCD is present in fibromyalgia and non-fibromyalgia clinical populations. In addition, there are no studies available concerning SCD and fibromyalgia in the general population. We investigated these issues in a longitudinal rheumatic disease research databank and two cross-sectional general population studies.

Methods: 11,150 unselected patients with rheumatoid arthritis completed an assessment of FM and cognitive severity (CS) status using the full 0-3 fibromyalgia 2016 criteria assessment. In addition, CS was dummy coded as present/absent (CS+). Assessments of SCD and fibromyalgia prevalence were available in two German general population studies.

Results: Fibromyalgia was present (FM+) in 2,493 (21.7%) of clinical subjects and absent (FM-) in 9,017 (78.3%) by FM 2016 criteria. Cognitive status was present in 1,304 (52.3%) of those with fibromyalgia and 1,009 (11.2%) of non-fibromyalgia subjects (FM-). In two general population studies, 42.0% to 52.3% of those with fibromyalgia were CS+ as were 1.4% to 5.5% of FM- subjects. Patients with CS+ had more abnormal scores for every measure of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) severity, fibromyalgia severity, and general health. The presence of CS+ was strongly related to somatic and non-somatic symptoms scores and less strongly to pain variables. The best predictor of CS+ in the clinic and the general population was the symptom severity scale (SSS), a criterion of fibromyalgia.

Conclusions: Persons with SCD have high counts of somatic and psychological symptoms. Subjective cognitive dysfunction is best predicted by a simple symptoms score, and not by pain extent scores. Although SCD is called fibrofog in patients with FM, 43.6% of CS+ cases occurred in FM- subjects. Fibromyalgia and CS are correlated but appear to be different parts of a symptom severity continuum. 'Fibrofog' as a phenomenon linked only to fibromyalgia is a misnomer because it can be identified in many non-fibromyalgia patients as well.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere20351
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2021


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