Is Driving Safe with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

What to Consider

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Do you sometimes wonder whether it's safe for you to drive? Many of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome do. Some people elect to stop because of their symptoms.

Some basic questions to ask yourself include:

  • Can I focus well enough to drive, in spite of pain and other symptoms?
  • How likely am I to fall asleep while driving, or be too exhausted to focus?
  • What other symptoms may impact my driving, how severe are they, and can they be managed?

    Beyond pain and fatigue, we have several symptoms that can contribute to driving worries. Chief among them is cognitive dysfunction, aka brain fog or fibro fog. In addition, some people worry about panic attacks while some have problems with balance.

    Cognitive Dysfunction & Driving

    Cognitive dysfunction is actually an umbrella term for several symptoms that negatively impact the way our brains function. The specific symptoms that can lessen our ability to drive include:

    It's fairly common to hear someone with these illnesses talking about driving somewhere they've been 1000 times, only to suddenly forget where they are, where they're going, and why. Or, at times, we may forget a familiar route, get lost, and have no ability to orient ourselves based on surroundings or compass points.

    Something I've experienced and also heard about from others is suddenly blanking on smaller things as well, such as how to get into the right lane properly, or how to navigate a difficult area.

    It's bad enough when these kinds of things happen while, say, walking through a store. When it hits while you're behind the wheel of the vehicle, it can be terrifying.

    A few times, I've had to pull over and wait for the episode to pass. Fortunately, they've been short and infrequent. That's not so for everyone.

    These events may be more common if you're distracted, thanks to the problems we can have multitasking. Passengers, the phone, even something on the radio may pull your focus away from driving without warning, and leave you struggling to get your bearings.

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    Panic Attacks

    For those of us who are prone to panic attacks, a bad brain-fog episode while driving can certainly be enough to trigger one. However, other factors can lead to anxiety as well, including running late, hitting heavy traffic, or the baby crying in the backseat.

    When you're shaking, dizzy, feel out of control, and can catch your breath, you're hardly in a state to drive safely. People who've had panic attacks while driving can become afraid that it will happen again, leading to a fear response that makes the situation more likely.

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    Balance Problems

    Dizziness and loss of balance are common problems in us, especially those who have chronic fatigue syndrome.

    As with cognitive dysfunction and panic attacks, a dizzy spell while driving can be scary and hamper your abilities. If you have a tendency to faint, it becomes more important to consider whether driving is right for you.

    Can You Manage Your Symptoms?

    If these symptoms or problems for you, it's important to talk to your doctor about them and the impact they have on your life. He or she may be able to help you find treatments that eliminate or alleviate the symptoms enough for you to drive safely.

    If not, you may need to seriously consider whether you should be behind the wheel. It's not an easy decision and means facing possible loss of freedom and independence. You may want to include people close to you in the decision, as they may have observed things you're not aware of — such as times they've written with you and haven't felt safe, or have seen you make questionable decisions.

    In the end, it's a decision only you can make as you are the only one who knows the nature and severity of your symptoms as well as your options for transportation if you do give up driving. Be sure you consider all the options available in your community when it comes to public transportation as well as transportation services for the disabled.

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