What Is Brain Fog and How Can I Treat It?

Brain fog is a condition that isn't yet recognized by the medical profession, but which affects millions of people worldwide due to multiple causes.
What Is Brain Fog and How Can I Treat It?
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 09 November, 2022

Have you ever gone to the refrigerator and forgotten what you were going to get? Do you feel more distracted than usual? Perhaps you’re experiencing “brain fog”. While there’s no official medical definition, it can refer to a set of symptoms that affect people’s cognitive processing.

Millions of people suffer from this condition around the world, so it’s more common than you might think. In fact, different studies show that up to 32% of people can suffer from brain fog after suffering from COVID-19 without even noticing it.

Many people tend to confuse this condition with Alzheimer’s and some psychiatric manifestations. However, brain fog has crucial differences when compared with these pathologies, and we’ll look into them to clear up any confusion.

Symptoms

What is brain fog?
Feeling overwhelmed with daily tasks is one of the major symptoms of brain fog.

People suffering from this condition often describe the symptoms in a few very simple words: “I find it hard to think”. Most commonly, people feel more forgetful than usual, and may even describe themselves as being more distracted. Other symptoms manifested include the following:

  • A feeling of slowness in thinking
  • Muddling up words in the middle of a sentence
  • Feeling overwhelmed with daily tasks
  • Easily distracted
  • Feelings of confusion, disorganization, and absent-mindedness

Brain fog affects various regions of the nervous system, especially those related to carrying out activities, planning, and organizing information. Some specialists confuse it with the early stages of dementia. However, this condition doesn’t increase in intensity over the years.

Causes of brain fog

Brain fog is a condition that has multiple origins, from diseases affecting the brain such as systemic lupus erythematosus to stress. In this regard, specialists haven’t been able to determine the specific causes of the condition. Some conditions that could cause it include the following:

  • Chronic stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Jet lag
  • Consumption of certain medication
  • Chronic conditions such as cancer or multiple sclerosis
  • Deficiency of B complex vitamins
  • Excessive caffeine
  • Digestive conditions such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease

In recent years, brain fog has also been associated with cognitive deficits following COVID-19. Multiple studies have shown the cognitive impairment and persistent fatigue suffered by people after the disease.

Other recent research also shows that the difficulty in thinking characteristic of the condition appears in conjunction with hormonal changes. Some women may experience brain fog during pregnancy or menopause.

How is it diagnosed?

The first thing to note is that brain fog isn’t a diagnosis per se. Specialists prefer to use the term “cognitive impairment” to make a more accurate diagnosis. Medical personnel will need to do a complete examination to make the diagnosis and establish the cause of the problem.

The diagnostic process is often long and difficult. Tests to measure executive function in mental illness are often helpful. Blood tests can also help identify other causes of cognitive impairment, such as sleep apnea and multiple sclerosis.

Inflammation and increased immune cell activity also contribute to brain fog. Therefore, analysis of factors such as D-dimer and ferritin are useful in diagnosis. Both inflammatory markers are observed in both blood and cerebrospinal fluid.

Brain fog treatment

A man with brain fog.
Making to-do lists is a good way to combat forgetfulness.

Since brain fog isn’t a disease per se, its treatment is very difficult. Specialists recommend carrying out actions that help people to live with the problem and adapt to it. Among the main recommendations provided, the following stand out:

  • Writing notes with to-do lists
  • Setting alarms so you don’t miss important appointments
  • Take regular breaks when doing long projects
  • Keep track of daily activities
  • Reserve clearer days for more complicated tasks

Other recommendations are focused on maintaining a better lifestyle. Adequate rest and daily exercise are some of the most common. Both activities help to increase concentration and thus improve brain fog.

Some people have found relief by taking medication for some conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, it isn’t recommended under any circumstances to take these types of drugs without a doctor’s supervision.

When to see a doctor?

Brain fog is a condition that alters many areas of the lives of people who suffer from it. Although there’ll be a few days of lucidity, sufferers may have the condition for weeks or even months.

Ideally, people should see a doctor when the problem lasts for many days without intervals of lucidity. Also, medical assistance should be sought when brain fog dramatically interferes with daily activities. Before that, it’s possible to try to follow the above recommendations to control the condition.

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