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Brain Fog - How to Recognize and Get Rid of It

 Have you ever had a long day at work and felt like you couldn’t properly concentrate on anything by the time you got home? It’s safe to assume that everyone had this kind of experience at some point in their lives. This state of mental exhaustion and ‘clouded consciousness’ is called brain fog. 

Many long-haul Covid-19 patients reported dealing with persistent brain fog for weeks or months after technically recovering from the infection. While it’s unfortunate that more people experience brain fog these days, the context of Covid-19 brought attention to this otherwise overlooked issue. 

Brain fog can be indicative of an underlying health problem. Since brain fog is not a clinical term, recognizing it can be tricky. Some health practitioners may even dismiss it as unimportant. However, according to Dr. Scott Kaiser, the director of cognitive health at the Brain Health Center in Santa Monica, California, it is a very real condition that should be addressed. Here is how you can recognize brain fog, why you may be experiencing it, and how to treat it. 

What does brain fog feel like?

As we mentioned, brain fog is a feeling of mental fatigue or fuzziness that makes it hard to think clearly. The exact way brain fog feels differs from person to person, but it’s always characterized by a decline in cognitive functioning. 

What Is Brain Fog - 6 Common Causes brain puzzle

You may feel like you are not able to do mental tasks as well as you used to or have difficulty making up your mind. Other symptoms of brain fog include:

  • Poor concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Moodiness
  • Inability to pay attention or focus
  • Inability to multitask.

The reason it's so important to talk about brain fog, even if it’s challenging, is that it can be a symptom of another underlying health issue. Those range from autoimmune diseases like lupus to Alzheimer's and diabetes. If you have a severe or persistent form of brain fog, it’s essential that you consult your doctor. 

That being said, brain fog can also be the result of everyday habits. Here are a few of the most common causes.
 

1. Poor Sleep

Poor sleep quality could interfere with how well your brain functions. Both REM (the deepest stage of sleep) and non-REM sleep are required to consolidate and process memories from the day. Irregular sleep time and wake time, getting less than 7-8 hours of sleep a night, or blue light exposure before bed disrupt that process and affect memory consolidation. 

2. Nutritional deficiencies and food sensitivities

Vitamin B12 contributes to the synthesis of red blood cells and the maintenance of your central nervous system. Therefore, a deficiency in B12 is sure to impair your energy levels and elicit a feeling of fatigue. Other nutritional deficiencies associated with brain fog are low iron, magnesium, and vitamin D. Your doctor can check all of these through a blood test. 

What Is Brain Fog - 6 Common Causes confused woman

Another diet-related cause of brain fog is an unidentified food sensitivity. A recent study linked sensitivity to gluten with brain fog. There is little research on why gluten affects the nervous system. “This may happen because gluten alters gut function, and changes in the gut microbiome affect cognitive centers in the brain and ultimately affect brain function,” explained neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez.

3. Stress

Life can be hectic at times. Long work hours, parenting, anxiety, worry, and other types of mental pressure can have a big effect on brain function. The body diverts energy away from its typical functions and towards the stressor, and you end up feeling foggy and unable to focus on anything else. 

Learning to reduce your stress with techniques like meditation, exercise, and self-care may help clear your mind. 

4. Hormonal Changes

The inability to concentrate is a known sign of both menopause and andropause. Hormonal changes in your body directly influence the brain. Estrogen levels contribute to memory and other brain processes, so when estrogen levels drop, occasional lapses in various brain functions can occur. This explains why brain fog is so common in pregnant women, too.

5. MedicationWhat Is Brain Fog - 6 Common Causes pill

Certain medications - both prescription and over-the-counter - are known to cause brain fog as a side effect. Sleeping pills and benzodiazepines, which are often prescribed to help with anxiety, are particularly likely to generate brain fog. If you have recently started a new medication and experience brain fog, you may need to change the dose or opt for a different treatment altogether. Always tell your doctor about all the medications you take, including over-the-counter ones. 

6. Covid-19

Research suggests that 50 to 80 percent of people who recover from COVID-19 experience at least some lingering after-effects 3 months after infection. Brain fog is one of the most common lingering symptoms of long-haul Covid-19.

More research needs to be done on the effects of COVID-19 on the brain, but the condition likely occurs due to inflammation in the blood vessels that ‘feed’ the brain. If you’re experiencing ‘Covid brain fog,’ there’s a good chance it isn’t the only symptom you’re still feeling. The virus attacks more than one system at a time, including the brain, which may explain the variety of symptoms seen in Covid-19 patients, such as nausea, loss of taste or smell, heart damage, and brain fog. 

What Is Brain Fog - 6 Common Causes woman with covid-19

How to Treat Brain Fog

Due to the fact that the causes of brain disease are so diverse, the treatment will very much depend on the cause. Health experts suggest starting with the fundamentals of good self-care, including getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and lowering your stress levels as much as possible. 

In and of itself, brain fog isn't an emergency. However, if it appears suddenly or is seriously impacting your day-to-day life, make an appointment to see a healthcare provider. If lifestyle changes haven’t helped, your doctor may want to run some additional tests to rule out any of the underlying issues mentioned above. 

Finally, probably the most fun way to combat brain fog is puzzles, quizzes, and brainteasers, which you can find on our site in abundance!

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