Brain fog affects a variety of mental processes, including memory and concentration. Conditions such as migraine or multiple sclerosis can cause brain fog, while stress, lack of sleep, and diet are also causes.
Brain fog can be frustrating and confusing. However, people can use several methods to help themselves cope.
This article reviews what brain fog is, what causes it, and tips on managing it.
Brain fog can be described as a feeling of confusion and disorientation.
Brain fog can make a person feel as though the processes of thinking, understanding, and remembering are not working as they should.
Brain fog can affect:
- memory, including the ability to store and recall information
- the use and understanding of language
- the ability to process and understand information
- visual and spatial skills for drawing, recognizing shapes, and navigating spaces
- the ability to calculate and work things out
- executive functioning abilities for organizing, solving problems, and planning
If one or more of these functions does not work effectively, it can be difficult to understand, focus, and remember things. It can lead to stress and mental fatigue.
Brain fog can present differently between people. Some common symptoms
- lack of mental clarity
- memory issues
- inability to focus
Many conditions that can cause brain fog are inflammatory conditions.
There are different types of inflammation. Chronic inflammation is caused by an out-of-balance immune system and can affect any part of the body in different ways.
This inflammation can affect the heart and its vessels, the gut and its biome, the liver, as well as the brain’s neurons and cognition. Low-grade inflammation can also occur in a specific organ or tissue, including brain tissue.
A person can also experience acute inflammation, which can result from a traumatic head injury, for example.
Below are examples of conditions that may cause brain fog, usually due to a type of inflammation.
A concussion can happen after trauma or a head injury such as a fall. It can cause acute inflammation in the brain, leading to cognitive brain fog-like symptoms such as memory problems, confusion, or forgetfulness.
Migraine is a condition that can cause recurring headaches, which can sometimes be debilitating. Migraine episodes can also involve other symptoms, such as sensitivity to light and sound, mood changes, and brain fog.
While more research is needed to understand why this happens, many people
One theory is that migraine causes cortical depression, which is a change in brain activity that can lead to brain fog. Migraine is also
As a result, people living with MS may experience changes in their ability to make decisions and process and remember information.
These changes are usually mild to moderate and do not affect a person’s ability to live independently. However, they can lead to frustration and difficulty completing daily tasks, such as finding house keys or shopping for groceries.
Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome
Fibromyalgia causes pain throughout the body and can affect a person’s concentration and memory. This is known as fibro fog. Scientists do not know exactly how fibromyalgia leads to these types of symptoms.
CFS, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, can result in severe tiredness and problems with thinking. As with fibromyalgia, there is no clear explanation of what CFS does to the brain to cause brain fog symptoms.
Brain fog can be a symptom of an inflammatory infection that attacks the brain. For example, bacterial diseases such as Lyme disease can cause brain fog.
Many people experience problems with their cognition after having COVID-19, even long after the initial infection has passed. This can be one of the symptoms of long COVID.
The virus is thought to activate certain immune cells in the brain, which
Learn more about long COVID brain fog.
Problems with memory, focus, and decision-making can contribute to the feeling of brain fog. There may also be problems with sleeping and a lack of energy, which can make concentrating and completing tasks harder.
Learn more about brain fog and depression.
Neurodivergent people, including autistic people, can experience brain fog. The cause
In many cases, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can co-occur with anxiety, which
In addition, brain fog and other cognitive symptoms can occur with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), particularly in adults.
Nutrients can have an effect on a person’s ability to focus, think clearly, and recall information.
Eating an unhealthful diet or not eating enough
Specific nutrients that can play a role in cognition and memory include vitamin B-12, iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids. A lack of some nutrients, such as magnesium,
Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia can involve symptoms of brain fog.
Alzheimer’s happens when protein plaques build up in a person’s brain. This buildup affects brain functioning, with various cognitive and other symptoms. There is
People with obesity may also experience brain fog. This is likely because obesity can cause inflammation affecting multiple body systems, including the brain.
Autoimmune conditions are inflammatory diseases. Brain fog can be a symptom of an autoimmune condition.
For example, lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks healthy tissue. It can cause symptoms throughout the body.
About 70–80% of people with lupus experience brain fog at some point in their lifetime.
Another condition that can cause brain fog is rheumatoid arthritis. Similarly, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is another condition in which gastrointestinal inflammation can also affect brain function.
There are additional conditions that may cause brain fog. They include:
Learn more about hypothyroidism.
Postural tachycardia syndrome
During sleep, the muscles in the back of the throat relax. Sometimes, this can lead to people having trouble breathing at night.
If a person has pauses in breathing at night that interfere with their sleep quality, they may have sleep apnea.
Treating sleep apnea may improve the brain fog that can result.
Some medications may affect an individual’s mental functioning.
- chemotherapy drugs
- sleeping pills
- drugs for anxiety
- some pain relief medications
People may wish to speak with a doctor about any adverse side effects they are experiencing from the medication they are taking. If the medication cannot be changed, a doctor can help the individual develop coping strategies for brain fog.
A person should consider talking with a doctor about treating the underlying cause of their brain fog. It should clear or improve when the underlying condition is treated or managed, such as by switching medications.
The following are some ways a person can treat the symptom of brain fog. However, they will not generally treat the underlying condition.
Dietary changes may increase a person’s energy levels and improve mental focus.
A diet that focuses heavily on processed foods that are high in unhealthful fats and sugars
In addition, people living with many of the conditions that can cause brain fog may benefit from probiotic supplements. Research shows this can help improve brain function. A person may find a similar benefit from eating foods that naturally contain probiotics, such as yogurt or kimchi.
People should also drink enough fluid to prevent dehydration but limit the intake of caffeine and alcohol, as these can affect sleep and energy levels.
Sleep hygiene refers to how a person sets up their sleep environment and improves their sleep quality.
Some tips to help improve sleep quality
- set a regular bedtime
- leave mobile devices in another room
- keep the room cool, dark, and free from sound, or other distractions
- use the bed only for sleeping and sex
- avoid caffeine before bed
- do not eat a large meal before bedtime
When a person is exposed to something that triggers a stress response, the immune system
Stress management can vary between people. For some, exercises such as yoga or running can help improve their mood and stress levels.
Most people will benefit from avoiding stressful situations, such as public speaking or a demanding job.
Supplements to help stop brain fog
Some evidence suggests that vitamin and mineral deficiencies may contribute to brain fog, particularly when an underlying condition is present, such as Celiac disease. Supplements may help to eliminate brain fog associated with vitamin deficiencies.
Supplements that may help with brain fog include:
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to brain fog. Vitamin D supplements may help. In a
2019 study, researchers found that supplementing with vitamin D helped improve mental cognition in older women who took 3 doses of vitamin D daily for a year.
- Omega-3 fatty acid: Some older evidence
suggeststhat taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help improve mental cognition.
- Vitamin C: A
2019 studyfound that healthy adults with high levels of vitamin C in their blood performed better on cognitive tasks, such as focus, attention, memory access, and reaction time.
- L-theanine: A
2021 studyfound that taking a 100.6 milligram (ml) dose of L-theanine helped to improve working memory and reaction times on cognitive tests.
- B complex: A
2020 studyof over 200 adults with cognitive impairment and B12 deficiencies found that most people performed better with cognition and attention when taking supplements.
- Magnesium: Some evidence
suggeststhat low magnesium levels can increase the risk of cognitive impairment
There are many possible causes of brain fog, and treatment will depend on the cause.
A doctor may work with a person to develop a care plan that includes medication, physical therapy, and self-care through diet and exercise.
Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe specific medications to help with aspects of thinking, such as:
- mood changes
The following lifestyle tips may help with improving symptoms of brain fog:
- prepare meals ahead of time to avoid eating fast food or other processed foods when running errands, at work, or at other times during travel
- develop a routine that includes a regular time for exercise
- try to go to sleep around the same time every night
- engage in regular physical activity
- avoid or limit alcohol and other substances
- eat foods that contain probiotics
Tips for managing daily tasks
Several strategies may help when it becomes difficult to think clearly.
- Use a calendar: Write down your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks in a calendar or organizer.
- Avoid distractions: When possible, find a quiet space to concentrate on tasks and take regular breaks to help focus.
- Do one task at a time: Focus on one task and complete it before beginning another one. Multitasking can worsen confusion and brain fog, and it can also increase stress.
- Get support: Explain how you feel to family and friends and ask them to speak more slowly. This will allow extra time to process information.
- Learn organization techniques: It may help to keep a diary or make lists. Smartphone reminders may help remind you to complete tasks, such as taking your medication or going to doctor’s appointments.
- Store items in the same place each time: Find somewhere memorable in the home to keep items that are easy to lose, such as keys.
Strategies to help with memory and concentration can make the situation more manageable in cases where brain fog is part of a long-term condition.
A person should see a doctor if they:
- have other symptoms that may indicate an underlying medical condition
- notice that brain fog has started or worsened suddenly or significantly
- see no improvement despite making lifestyle changes
A doctor will usually ask for information about their mental health, diet, and other symptoms before carrying out tests.
The following sections provide answers to some frequently asked questions about brain fog.
Does brain fog go away?
Brain fog can last for months. However, it often improves when a person gets effective treatment the underlying cause. A person can also take steps to help improve the symptom with lifestyle changes and other treatments.
Is brain fog a mental illness?
Brain fog is not a mental health condition. However, mental health conditions such as depression can cause brain fog to occur.
Does coffee help with brain fog?
Coffee may provide a temporary boost and may also help with the long-term prevention of cognitive decline. According to a
Brain fog can happen for various reasons, including a medical condition, stress, poor diet, a lack of sleep, or the use of some medications. If symptoms result from a medical condition, they may improve with treatment.
Tips for reducing the impact of problems with memory and concentration include making lists, sticking to routines, reducing stress, improving sleep, and regular exercise, among others.