Brain Fog After COVID-19: Why It Happens and What You Can Do
Not only do these reports shed light on how the COVID-19 virus can impact our cognition, but they also illuminate the fact that anyone—no matter their COVID-19 history—can experience persistent brain fog.
If you feel you’ve had brain fog after COVID-19, the Aviv Clinics team is here to help you navigate through that. Stay educated with this essential guide to give yourself the best chance at getting back to optimal health.
As you’re reading through this, keep in mind:
- Each person has a unique experience with COVID-19. Therefore, speaking with a doctor is a critical first step to diagnosing long COVID.
- Per the CDC, several alternative terms are used to reference long COVID, such as post-COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID, and chronic COVID.
What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a term that describes slow or sluggish thinking. Someone with brain fog may experience confusion, forgetfulness, and/or a lack of mental clarity.
We all experience brain fog from time to time. Perhaps you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, took an antihistamine, or had a cold that made you feel unfocused or disoriented. In cases like these, you can simply rest and feel like yourself in no time.
But sometimes, individuals experience brain fog that lingers even beyond six months after having COVID. This has been one of the main symptoms of post-COVID.
Is Brain Fog a Symptom of Long COVID?
Yes, brain fog is a common symptom of long COVID—the CDC lists brain fog under its neurological symptoms. Brain fog from COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily need to manifest on a substantial level; it can be subtle. One study notes participants who didn’t notice their brain fog still performed poorly on attention and memory tasks.
Why Does COVID-19 Cause Brain Fog?
Stanford Medicine researchers note brain fog from COVID-19 emulates the same cognitive issues caused by cancer chemotherapy (“chemo brain”). In both cases, excessive inflammation damages the brain cells and processes.
Aviv physician Dr. Mohammed Elamir, MD, FACP, further explains there is a link between:
- Where the COVID-19 virus attacks the brain
- How that impacted location in the brain affects long COVID symptoms
There are four main ways COVID-19 can attack the brain:
- Direct brain invasion: The virus travels through the nose and into the insula—which oversees memory and executive function through its connection with the prefrontal cortex.
- Blood vessel injury: The COVID-19 virus may harm blood vessels that feed blood to the brain.
- Dysregulated immune response: Damaged blood vessels caused by COVID-19 can slow down the growth of cells, impacting the brain’s immune response.
- Cellular dysfunction: COVID-19 can trigger cell damage. This slows down the body’s response rate to infection, leading to high inflammatory conditions.
Is My Brain Fog Related to COVID-19?
If you notice your cognition has not been the same since your COVID-19 infection, we recommend speaking with a physician. Your body and health background are entirely unique from other people’s. Therefore, it’s important to discuss your lingering symptoms with a healthcare professional to assess whether your brain fog is indeed due to long COVID.
The certified physicians at Aviv Clinics assess the following four areas to diagnose long COVID. Walking through these four areas enables your physician to provide the holistic approach your health deserves.
- Physical symptoms: Fatigue, cough, loss of taste or smell, labored breathing, joint or muscle pain, etc.
- Cognitive and psychological symptoms: Brain fog, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, headaches, etc.
- Lung symptoms: Shortness of breath, chest pain/tightness, etc.
- Cardiac symptoms: Heart palpitations, elevated blood pressure, decline in oxygen saturation, etc.
How Can You Minimize Post-COVID Brain Fog?
Minimizing post-COVID brain fog involves engaging in activities known to improve memory and thought processes. These activities may include:
- Getting adequate sleep
- Eating a well-balanced diet
Addressing Long COVID Symptoms
Multiple studies reveal, as part of a comprehensive treatment program, hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) may help in mitigating long COVID symptoms. From clinical and qualitative evaluations of HBOT patients, researchers conclude there is hope that HBOT can address some of the common symptoms such as fatigue and brain fog.
Aviv Clinics’ team of certified physicians takes a three-step approach to their long COVID treatment:
- In-depth medical assessment: Conducting comprehensive testing (physical, cognitive, and neurological) and brain imaging
- Tailored treatment program: Creating a customized treatment plan based on your test results
- Post-treatment assessment: Administering second round of testing to unveil findings/progress
Learn more about Aviv’s long COVID approach.
How Long Does Post-COVID Brain Fog Last?
As everyone’s bodies are different, there is no set time limit to COVID-19 brain fog. Some research studies indicate that most patients recover within six to nine months, with others experiencing brain fog for two years or more.
Dr. Mohammed Elamir, MD, FACP, says how long it takes for brain fog to go away depends on how invasive the virus is in your body:
“[…] the amount of real estate that those microvascular changes are occupying will probably dictate how long [symptoms] will last.”
The Bottom Line
Brain fog from COVID-19 can be difficult to live with. If you or a loved one suspects COVID-19 has left lingering cognitive issues, contact Aviv Clinics. Our team will offer the resources you need to learn more about how our team of physicians treats long COVID symptoms. Feeling your best cognitively and physically starts with us.
Cognitive Impairment & COVID-19: What We Know So Far
There’s a lot that we still don’t know about COVID 19, especially when it comes to the long-term effects. However, emerging research suggests a troubling new link between the Coronavirus and long-term neurological dysfunction. Many “COVID long-haulers” continue to experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and brain fog even weeks after recovering from the Coronavirus. Research also suggests links between the virus and increased risk for strokes, which is concerning for older adults or anyone who already had an increased risk.
If you’ve been feeling lost and dazed since recovering from the Coronavirus, you’re not alone. But don’t despair. In this article, we’ll address the potential neurological effects of COVID-19, along with our best advice for COVID long-haulers.
What is a “COVID long-hauler”?
“COVID long-hauler” is a new term used to describe the growing number of people who continue to experience symptoms of the Coronavirus weeks after recovering. Common complaints among long-haulers include respiratory problems like a persistent cough or shortness of breath. Neurological problems are also common, including headaches, fatigue, loss of taste/smell, and the now-infamous “Covid brain fog”.
Long-haulers are a diverse group, and anyone can become one, young or old. It’s not unusual for someone to report feeling like they’re “in a fog” or “stuck in a daze” even weeks after testing negative for the virus. Some people may be plagued by COVID fatigue or headaches, while still others can’t taste their favorite foods.
You don’t need to have been hospitalized to be a COVID long-hauler, either. Even mild cases can lead to these unpleasant after-effects, which is why you still don’t feel like your old self even after a minor bout with the virus. It’s unclear exactly why some people become COVID long-haulers while others experience no ill effects. But researchers are working hard to gain a greater understanding of the risk factors involved.
How COVID affects the brain
Did you know that when it comes to COVID, losing your sense of smell is actually a neurological problem? It’s true. The Coronavirus can affect the olfactory nerve connecting your nose to your brain, which inhibits your sense of smell. It was one of the earliest signs that COVID could affect the brain. While we still need more research to determine the full extent of COVID’s neurological effects, preliminary studies have revealed a connection between the virus and impaired cognitive performance.
In the study, a group of COVID-19 patients between the ages of 30 and 60 underwent a series of neuropsychological tests to assess various functions of their brains, including memory function, processing speed, and executive function. The COVID-19 patients experienced inhibited cognitive function when compared to a healthy test group, and they especially struggled with sustaining attention on the tests, providing us with evidence that the “COVID brain fog” is a real phenomenon.
The inflammation connection
Interestingly, COVID patients also exhibit high levels of inflammation in their blood. That’s not surprising since inflammation is one of the immune system’s natural responses to threats. In low levels, inflammation is a good thing; it’s a sign that your body is addressing the problem as intended. But as with everything in life, balance is key, and excessive inflammation can wreak havoc on your health.
One of the symptoms associated with coronavirus is a “cytokine storm”, an overactive immune response that skyrockets inflammation levels. Cytokine storms have been associated with reduced oxygen in the blood and other respiratory problems caused by COVID-19. They’ve also been linked to neurological problems, like brain fog, fatigue, or the stabbing headaches associated with the virus.
COVID and Strokes
While it’s still unclear exactly why COVID increases the risk of ischemic strokes (blood clots) in some people, inflammation could play a part. Chronic inflammation has long been linked to an increased risk of stroke, which could explain why the aging population is more susceptible.
Picture two highways. One highway is smooth and freshly paved without any potholes or blemishes. It’s easy for traffic to flow through this highway on a consistent basis, and traffic jams are uncommon. On the other hand, the second highway is littered with potholes, cracks, and closed lanes, all of which make it difficult for traffic to flow even on a good day. Now, which highway do you think will fare better when a snowstorm strikes?
The highways in this analogy are your blood vessels, and the flow of traffic is your blood cells. The snowstorm is, of course, COVID-19. Having high levels of inflammation in your body makes it easier for the blood to clot, which can ultimately lead to strokes. This is also why those with pre-existing conditions are hit hard by the virus — because their immune systems are already inflamed from fighting other problems.
How to combat inflammation
Because COVID patients almost always exhibit higher levels of inflammation in their blood, having low inflammation levels in your body can help combat the severity of the virus. Eating a clean diet, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding stress keeps inflammation levels low, which can help COVID long-haulers find relief. Avoiding stress is especially key, although that’s often easier said than done.
If you’re feeling stressed because of the pandemic, you’re definitely not alone. If the constant barrage of information from the news and social media is stressing you out, try unplugging for a while. Fire up the iPad for a chat with your grandkids, or head outside for a (socially-distanced) walk in the fresh air. While it’s important to stay informed, it’s also important to take care of your mental health.
Could getting vaccinated help a COVID long-hauler?
What about the Coronavirus vaccine? If you’re a COVID long-hauler plagued by brain fog or headaches, could getting vaccinated provide relief? Unfortunately, probably not. The purpose of the vaccine is to train your body’s immune system to fight against the Coronavirus. It’s meant to be used as a preventative measure. It’s not a cure, and it’s not a way to mitigate the virus’s after-effects. That’s no reason not to get vaccinated, however.
Even if you’ve already contracted the virus, the vaccine can prevent you from getting it a second time, which can minimize your risk of suffering long-term side effects. And if you’ve never contracted the virus before, getting vaccinated can ensure that you never have to deal with long-term side effects in the first place.
When to see a doctor about your long-term Coronavirus symptoms
If you’re struggling with long-term COVID neurological symptoms, you don’t need to suffer alone. Whether you’re being plagued by fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, headaches or loss of taste, any problem that impacts your quality of life is worth bringing up to your doctor.
Although your doctor may not have all the answers yet, they’ll do everything they can to help you cope with your symptoms. There’s also the possibility that your symptoms may not be caused by COVID at all, but by another health condition instead. Never hesitate to seek help when you need it, especially when it comes to your cognitive well-being.
The bottom line
While we still need more research to determine the full extent of the Coronavirus — especially when it comes to long-term symptoms — anyone of any age can minimize the damage caused by COVID simply by practicing healthy lifestyle habits and keeping your inflammation levels low. Taking care of your body inside and out is crucial not just for fighting COVID, but for any health condition you may encounter.
You can also minimize your chances of contracting the virus by continuing to follow the CDC guidelines of mask-wearing, social distancing, and getting vaccinated when you can. Above all else, staying calm and optimistic is one of the most important things you can do in the face of the pandemic. So do your best to stay positive.