Do you occasionally have difficulty remembering something you were just thinking about or focusing throughout the day? Have you ever felt spaced out or like your brain is in a fog? These experiences are commonly called “brain fog”. Brain fog can make it difficult to complete daily tasks and retain information.
What is brain fog?
Brain fog isn’t a medical condition itself, but rather a symptom of other medical conditions. It’s a type of cognitive dysfunction involving:
- memory problems
- lack of mental clarity
- poor concentration
- inability to focus
Some people also describe it as mental fatigue. Depending on the severity of brain fog, it can interfere with work or school. But it doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture in your life.
What Can Cause Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a term used to describe general feelings of lacking focus, memory problems, poor concentration, and the overwhelming feeling of haziness. When suffering from brain fog, your fuzzy and disorganized state of mind may make it difficult to remember things and to think clearly.
Brain fog is a common symptom of many illnesses, such as:
Memory, concentration, and focus can all be negatively affected by major depressive disorder, or MDD. While research is still being conducted on the links between MDD and brain fog, it is believed that brain fog happens when MDD interferes with the health and function of nerves in the brain, particularly in areas that control attention and memory.
With regards to treatment, you may still experience some brain fog or other symptoms when being treated for major depressive disorder. Not only do antidepressants not adequately treat depression in about 1/3 of people who take them, but they may also exacerbate brain fog. Some cause sleepiness which interferes with attention. Fortunately, there are other treatment options for depression, like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.
Grief is often confused with depression because they do share many common symptoms, including brain fog. However, because grief is a response to a particular event or trauma. In most cases, with some time and proper support, the symptoms of grief will decrease over time. There are some cases called ‘complicated grief’ in which symptoms last much longer or permanently.
Inflammation and Allergies
Brain fog is a common symptom of celiac disease, lupus, diabetes, and other autoimmune disorders. Allergies can cause the inflammation of nasal passages and sinuses, which may lead to runny nose, itchy eyes and skin, and sneezing. Allergies may also cause sleep disturbance, and fatigue and fogginess.
Neurological conditions, like Parkinson’s disease or those associated with head injuries, can cause damage to nerves in your brain and potentially cause brain fog. Certain vitamin deficiencies can also impact the health of nerves in the brain. There are numerous other neurological diseases that can give a sense of brain fog, which is why a medical evaluation is crucial in trying to understand the cause of your brain fog.
Some medications can affect the way your brain functions or cause brain fog. As previously mentioned, antidepressants are intended to help with brain fog but some actually cause brain fog as a side effect, depending on the medication and your individual response to it. Sedatives, pain medicine, bladder control medicine and antihistamines are some of the other types of medications that can often lead to brain fog.
Sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder that can result in poor sleep and low oxygen intake. Changes in oxygen levels interfere with the necessary stages of sleep and lessens the restorative sleep that is vital to the refreshment of our brains. This can lead to brain fog, resulting in difficulty with focus, concentration, and memory,
Other possible causes of brain fog include but are not limited to:
- Poor diet
- Hormonal changes or imbalances
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Lack of exercise
How it’s diagnosed
See your doctor if you have persistent lack of clarity that worsens or doesn’t improve. A single test can’t diagnose brain fog. Brain fog may signal an underlying issue, so your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask about your:
- mental health
- level of physical activity
- current medications or supplements
You should let your doctor know about other symptoms you might have. For example, someone with hypothyroidism may have brain fog along with hair loss, dry skin, weight gain, or brittle nails.
Blood work can help your doctor identify the cause of brain fog. A blood test can detect the following:
- abnormal glucose levels
- poor liver, kidney, and thyroid function
- nutritional deficiencies
- inflammatory diseases
Based on the results, your doctor will determine whether to investigate further. Other diagnostic tools may include imaging tests to look inside the body, such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans. The doctor may also conduct allergy testing or a sleep study to check for a sleep disorder.
Keeping a food journal can help you determine if your diet contributes to brain fog.
Treating Brain Fog
Brain fog treatment depends on the cause.
For example, if you’re anemic, iron supplements may increase your production of red blood cells and reduce your brain fog. If you’re diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid or other medication to reduce inflammation or suppress the immune system.
Sometimes, relieving brain fog is a matter of correcting a nutritional deficiency, switching medications, or improving the quality of your sleep.
Home remedies to improve brain fog include:
- sleeping 8 to 9 hours per night
- managing stress by knowing your limitations and avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine
- strengthening your brain power (try volunteering or solving brain puzzles)
- finding enjoyable activities
- increasing your intake of protein, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats
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