Patients with Fibromyalgia Scored Worse in Memory, Attention, Cognitive Function

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Without controlling for the severity of symptoms, patients with either fibromyalgia or RA performed worse when compared with controls in terms of cognitive domains including verbal memory, visual memory, and strategic planning.

A cross-sectional study demonstrated significant impairments in attention, memory, and higher cognitive functions among a cohort of patients with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a study published in Psychology Research and Behavior Management.1

Investigators believe deficits in the fibromyalgia cohort could be explained by secondary symptoms coupled with more severe pain. A cognitive screening could help curate personalized treatment plans to improve the quality of life among patients with RA and fibromyalgia.

“Research directly comparing cognitive performance between patients with fibromyalgia and RA is still scarce. Some studies suggested deficits of similar magnitude in both patient groups,” wrote a group of investigators led by Carmen María Galvez Sánchez, PhD, associated with the Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment at the University of Murcia, Spain. “In response to this exigency, there is a requisite for the evaluation of cognitive impairments in individuals with chronic pain, aiming to formulate and implement interventions rooted in neuropsychological training. This approach is intended to ameliorate cognitive performance and mitigate its consequential impact on health-related quality of life.”

In certain patients with fibromyalgia, cognitive impairment was linked to clinical pain severity, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety. Similarly, these were also reported in patients with RA, although pain and emotional symptoms within the fibromyalgia cohort.2 Symptoms of fibromyalgia and RA often include depression, fatigue, insomnia, and cognitive issues.

Investigators analyzed the performance in cognitive domains between patients with RA and fibromyalgia using the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) statement. Questionnaire scores were combined to determine the symptom severity factor, which was used as a control variable within the group comparisons.

A total of 64 patients with fibromyalgia, 34 patients with RA, and 32 healthy controls were included in the study. All patients were female.

Without controlling for the severity of symptoms, patients with either fibromyalgia or RA performed worse when compared with controls in terms of cognitive domains including verbal memory, visual memory, and strategic planning.

Additionally, over deficits were observed in the fibromyalgia cohort compared with RA. Patients with fibromyalgia reported more severe symptoms, such as pain intensity, total pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and fatigue, compared with patients with RA. After controlling for symptom severity a significant proportion of cognitive test, a large proportion of cognitive test parameters were not different between rheumatologic cohorts.

Limitations included the lack of information regarding the influence of psychotropic and pain medication on cognitive performance among rheumatic patients. Although the limitation could have been determined using subgroup analysis, the current sample size was too small to form these subgroups.

Further, no data on treatment and disease activity were collected in the RA subgroup and the analysis of the effects of clinical symptoms on cognitive performance was limited. Additionally, not all psychological factors that may impact cognition were assessed in the analysis. The generalizability of findings may be hindered as only women were included in the analysis and the recruitment of subjects was not randomly performed. Lastly, the RA and fibromyalgia diagnoses were performed by different rheumatologists, which may have introduced selection bias.

“Based on the present results, it is recommended that screening for cognitive deficits be part of routine diagnostics for fibromyalgia and RA, which may help to guide the design of personalized interventions to optimize cognitive performance of patients with fibromyalgia and RA,” investigators concluded.


  1. Galvez-Sánchez CM, Duschek S, Reyes Del Paso GA. A Comparative Analysis of Cognitive Deficits in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia: Impact of Symptoms Severity and Its Clinical Implications. Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2024;17:1399-1415. Published 2024 Mar 28. doi:10.2147/PRBM.S446798
  2. Abeare CA, Cohen JL, Axelrod BN, Leisen JC, Mosley-Williams A, Lumley MA. Pain, executive functioning, and affect in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Clin J Pain. 2010;26(8):683–689. doi:10.1097/AJP.0b013e3181ed1762