Brain Fog: causes, symptoms, and treatments
“I feel I’m just getting by on autopilot. I feel delayed with my actions and reactions to questions and
“It’s almost identical to what I go through when I’m awakened from a dream – just total bewilderment and almost
complete inability to process anything that’s going on.”
“Sometimes I am very far off. I’ll pause and get confused in the middle of doing things. I’m drowsy all the time
and just don’t know what’s going on.”
“I feel heavy on the front of my head, unrefreshed, similar to a hangover or jet lag.”
“I feel like Dory in Finding Nemo.”
If this sounds familiar, then you know what “brain fog” feels like. Brain fog is a symptom, not a diagnosis or disease. It leaves a person temporarily unable to concentrate or think clearly. Brain fog can vary considerably from person to person. The term “brain fog” only emerged in scientific literature about ten years ago, but it is just a new common name for a not-so-new or unusual bodily symptom. Cognitive dysfunction by other names, like “fibro fog” to “chemo brain,” has long been known to accompany some chronic conditions.
Not all brain fog is created equally: anything from stress to dehydration to a urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause mild, temporary brain fog. COVID-19 itself may be increasing rates of a particular kind of brain fog seen in “long-haul” COVID cases. Regardless of the cause, the forecast for the brain remains the same: foggy, forgetful, and fuzzy around the edges.
Fortunately, new treatments, such as the innovative hyperbaric oxygen therapy medical protocol at Aviv Clinics, may offer relief from brain fog caused by chronic conditions like Lyme and fibromyalgia. Scientific advancements, plus understanding the causes, symptoms, and tips to manage brain fog can help you take charge of this difficult cognitive condition.
What is brain fog?
Brain fog isn’t a specific medical diagnosis, but rather an indication of something else. Symptoms can be variable, vague, and unspecific.
Many things can cause the kind of cognitive dysfunction that many people describe as brain fog. The effects of brain fog can range from harmless, transient, and annoying to exhausting, frustrating, and debilitating. Some people use the term to refer to isolated or minor transgressions that last hours or at worst days. For others it may mean significant, constant, and debilitating cognitive struggles.
What chronic conditions cause frequent brain fog?
People who have myalgic encephalitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) or a related condition, fibromyalgia, are no strangers to brain fog. In fact, the term most likely came from the term “fibro fog” that sufferers of both conditions have used for many years to describe the frequent cognitive challenges. Chemotherapy patients may be familiar with “chemo brain,” which is the fogginess caused by medication and not the cancer itself.
Other medical conditions that sometimes feature cognitive dysfunction include depression, anemia, thyroid disorders, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes.
What else causes brain fog?
Excluding viral infection or major health conditions, if you’re otherwise healthy, having mild and/or temporary brain fog probably doesn’t signal major health risks. Your mental muddiness may be for more common reasons:
- Stress. It’s hardly a surprise that stress can affect the body. The brain is no exception. Although short term stress can actually sharpen your mind, over the long term, stress can negatively impact the brain.
- Lack of sleep. Another obvious, but often overlooked, cause of mental fatigue is sleep. You may need an average of 4 days to recover from a single hour of lost sleep.
- Hormones. Menopause is well known for wreaking havoc on the brain. The characteristic drop in estrogen can trigger memory and concentration issues.
- Diet. In addition to vitamins like B12 needed to keep the brain running at peak performance, some food allergies have been shown to contribute to brain fog.
- Medications. Many medications, especially psychiatric ones and some antibiotics, can have side effects that affect the way you think or seem to slow down the brain.
What can we do to help with brain fog?
Having brain fog is a sign that our body as a whole isn’t running on all cylinders, much like when we get sick with a cold or flu. Normal bodily functions don’t work as well. The brain needs constant oxygen, the right supply of nutrients, and rest in order to function well. When we start falling short in one area of health, it’s easy to spiral out of control. Looking at the list of causes for brain fog, the cycle becomes clear: lack of sleep can lead to stress, which can lead to poor diet, and so on.
Managing brain fog through good self-care to ensure general health and wellness should come as no surprise:
- Try to manage stress.
Easier said than done, but worth the effort. Many people find meditation
helpful in dealing with stress, plus for getting good sleep.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods to get the most vitamins and nutrients.
- Get enough sleep. The amount varies from person to person, so figure out what is right for you.
- Maintain physical activity. Exercise has proven benefits for the brain. Start with 30 minutes, 3 days per
- Drink enough water every day. Some cases of brain fog can be traced to simple dehydration.
- Challenge the brain with games, puzzles, or anything novel. Here’s a free brain training game to get you
When should you be worried about brain fog?
Everybody forgets things on occasion and everybody is going to experience ups and downs when it comes to brain performance. Lots of factors, such as sleep and hydration, can affect cognitive ability. Starting in your mid-60s, a slight decline in mental faculties is expected due to normal aging. Forgetting names, words, or walking into a room and forgetting why you’re there, are actually quite normal and don’t signal impending memory loss.
But when memory and other cognitive issues start to interfere with normal functioning, that’s a possible sign that warrants more attention. People with mild cognitive decline and/or early stages of dementia may simply stop doing things they used to do or have difficulty with regular tasks like paying bills. This infographic from the National Institute on Aging details some common differences between normal aging and signs of serious memory loss.
The bottom line
Brain fog may be a normal fact of life, especially with today’s stress-filled lifestyle, but it’s usually nothing to worry about. Managing your self-care and staying healthy in other areas can go a long way towards clearing away the fog.
Blood Pressure and Brain Health
We all know how dangerous high blood pressure is. It’s directly linked to problems like heart disease and strokes. But there’s a side effect to having high blood pressure that doesn’t always get talked about in mainstream studies: cognitive decline.
Nearly one in three Americans and nearly two-thirds of adults aged 60 and older suffer from high blood pressure, making it one of the most notorious killers in the United States.
Having high blood pressure can directly affect your cognitive function, causing problems like brain fog and forgetfulness. It can even lead to more serious cognitive issues like vascular dementia. Fortunately, there are actionable steps you can take to manage your blood pressure, no matter your age. There are also treatment options, such as the research-based hyperbaric oxygen therapy program at Aviv Clinics, that target post-stroke and age-related cognitive decline.
What is high blood pressure?
Every blood vessel in your body requires a certain amount of pressure to stay intact. Without it, they’d collapse on themselves like a vacuum. It’s when your blood pressure wanders outside of the acceptable range that health problems start to happen. Low blood pressure is called “hypotension” and can cause problems like dizziness or fainting.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is common in the United States because of our high cholesterol diets, sedentary lifestyles, and high-stress levels. The higher the blood pressure, the greater your risk for health problems, like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It also increases your risk for cognitive problems later in life.
What’s an acceptable blood pressure?
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, (mm and Hg). The upper number, systolic pressure, measures your heartbeats. The lower number, diastolic pressure, measures the time that your heart relaxes between beats. Normal levels of blood pressure are different for every person and depend on factors like age and weight. According to the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, Stage 1 hypertension occurs at 130/80 mm Hg and Stage 2 hypertension occurs at or above 140/90 mm.
Unlike other health problems, high blood pressure is unique because it doesn’t present symptoms on its own. No one ever goes into the doctor’s office specifically because their blood pressure is too high. The only way most people even discover that their blood pressure is too high is when something more serious happens, like a clot. The only way to know if your blood pressure is at a healthy level is to measure it with a blood pressure machine at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or on a home blood pressure machine.
- Tip: A home blood pressure device is a worthwhile investment to monitor your health. High blood pressure may be a symptom of another illness. It’s always helpful to know what’s happening in your body when it comes to blood pressure and brain health. Take your measurements at the same time every day for consistency, as your blood pressure will naturally rise and fall during the day.
How does high blood pressure affect the brain?
While the exact connection between hypertension and brain function is still a little fuzzy, scientific studies are helping to clear the fog. In this study, around 3,700 Japanese-American men living in Hawaii were randomly tested on their cognitive performance. The men averaged around 78 years in age and their blood pressures had already been logged in detail years prior, as a part of previous studies.
After adjusting for biases like prior education and age, the men who performed the poorest on the test were those who had experienced high blood pressure in middle age, suggesting a direct connection between hypertension and cognitive decline later in life. More recent studies have helped to reaffirm this connection, suggesting that high blood pressure and cognitive decline go hand in hand.
Another way high blood pressure can affect your brain is through vascular dementia, a type of dementia caused by blood flow problems in the brain. Patients often experience the same cognitive symptoms as those who suffer from other types of dementia, including confusion and memory loss. Having high blood pressure directly increases your risk of developing vascular dementia because of the strain it puts on your brain’s blood vessels, making it difficult for the brain to get the oxygen it needs to function properly.
Fortunately, vascular dementia can be improved through hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), such as the type available at Aviv Clinics in central Florida. HBOT works by delivering oxygen directly to the brain in a pressurized environment. This allows the damaged blood vessels in your brain to heal, helping you regain your cognitive functions.
What can I do to prevent high blood pressure?
While medication is often the first thing people think of when it comes to treating their blood pressure, healthy lifestyle choices are really the best medicine. And while it’s always better if you can correct these problems sooner in life, you can still make a positive change to improve your hypertension if you’re an older adult.
The absolute best things you can do for your high blood pressure and brain health are to follow these 5 main steps.
- Eat a clean diet of whole foods
- Sleep well
- Engage your mind
- Reduce and manage your stress levels
Managing stress levels is especially important for blood pressure and brain decline because high levels of stress increase cortisol production in the body. Having elevated cortisol levels in your body raises blood pressure. And effects of cortisol on the brain can include brain fog, confusion, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, and even more cognitive problems.
Some things you can try to calm your body are soothing activities like yoga or meditation. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you stay grounded in the present moment, and scientific studies have proven its effectiveness in managing stress levels. Yoga is also an excellent choice because it combines the principles of mindfulness with exercise, a two-for-one benefit!
If neither of these activities is quite your speed, pick another relaxing activity. Just about anything will do: golfing, gardening, reading a book, or even playing a video game with your grandchildren. Having fun is the important part. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, your stress levels will naturally go down, and the pressure in your body will ease.
While it is a dangerous condition, especially later in life, it is possible to manage high blood pressure and brain health by making healthy choices in your life. It’s never too late to start!