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September 13, 2021

Brain fog: What causes it and how to manage it

Adult Health Symptoms

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You’re unfocused. Everything in your memory feels like it’s just out of reach. No matter how hard you think, everything just feels sluggish and fuzzy. This feeling is commonly known as brain fog and it happens to everyone at some point or another.

“Brain fog” isn’t a specific disease or ailment, but as a symptom it can be discomforting. If you’re recovering from jet lag, you know the symptoms will probably pass, but how do you know if brain fog is a sign of something more serious?

General brain fog

Typically speaking, brain fog is any type of memory loss or confusion or inability to focus, understand, or pay attention that is not typical for your age. Everyone’s brain declines as they get older, but if you feel particularly spaced out, you’re likely experiencing brain fog. As a general rule, you don’t need to worry about this type of fogginess. It usually comes from lack of sleep, a change in time zones, or a bit too much alcohol or caffeine. If you’re feeling this way on a random afternoon, try taking a nap or making a point to eat a healthy meal and get some sleep that night.

Brain fog as a medical symptom

In the aftermath of a concussion, people often experience the symptoms of brain fog as described above. If you or someone you know has a head injury of any kind and is experiencing brain fog, it’s important to see a doctor — especially if the cognitive symptoms are accompanied by nausea, headaches, or blurry vision. Brain fog is also known to be a symptom for some people who contract COVID-19. If you’ve had COVID-19 and are experiencing brain fog, make an appointment with your doctor and be sure to share all your symptoms with them.

Chemo brain

During and after chemotherapy, people may experience brain fog — also called chemo brain. This is an unfortunate side effect of cancer treatments, and it’s important to share with your doctor as soon as symptoms appear. It’s not completely understood what the connection is between chemo brain, cancer, and the treatments patients undergo. But a doctor can help connect you with an occupational therapist or someone else who can help you manage the brain fog.

Other common causes of brain fog

Brain fog is a common symptom of hormonal changes such as pregnancy and menopause. It can also result from a variety of health conditions such as anemia, depression, diabetes, Sjögren syndrome, migraines, Alzheimer's, hypothyroidism and certain autoimmune diseases. But before you start worrying, it's better to rule out less serious causes like fatigue and stress.

Clearing your brain fog

If you’re feeling foggy, start with the basics: avoid alcohol and caffeine, and get some rest. That will help your brain rest and clear out any toxins affecting it. Once you’re rested, make a point to engage in physical activity: aerobic exercise is good for the brain. Pair that with other stimulating activities, such as social interaction, listening to music, or a challenging puzzle — all of these things can help you become more focused and engaged.

Chances are, you just need a little bit of rest, exercise, and a healthier diet. If you’re still concerned or if your symptoms persist for more than a few days, it’s best to make an appointment with your healthcare provider to have your brain fog checked out.

Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.

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