If you’ve ever had difficulty concentrating on something important, thinking clearly, or remembering a certain event or important item, you have experienced brain fog.
Brain fog happens to the best of us after a sleepless night or during periods of exhaustion, but it can also occur on a chronic basis as the result of certain medical conditions. So, what is brain fog and how do you get rid of it?
What is brain fog?
Brain fog is not a medical condition or a diagnosis; rather, it is usually a symptom of another medical condition.
On its own, brain fog isn’t a major problem aside from being frustrating to deal with and inconvenient, but when considered with other symptoms, it can be evidence of an underlying health issue. Brain fog is characterized by difficulty focusing or thinking clearly, and it’s often reenforced by patterns of cognitive dysfunction that include:
- Memory problems
- Poor concentration
- Lack of mental clarity
- Inability to focus
Sometimes, brain fog can feel like mental fatigue or like your brain doesn’t have any energy left to use. Brain fog can cause interference in your ability to perform tasks at work, school, or home, but it is not necessarily permanent.
What are some of the causes of brain fog?
There are many different medical conditions that can cause brain fog. The most common include: anxiety and depression, menopause or other hormonal changes, hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, taking certain medications, vitamin B12 deficiency, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Anxiety, Depression, and Stress
One of the most common causes of brain fog is mental health issues, specifically anxiety and depression. While everyone feels stressed, sad, or anxious from time to time, experiencing these feelings regularly for more than two weeks can contribute to brain fog. Having the brain in such a high-stress state is exhausting, and depression and anxiety also cause physical symptoms that sap the body of energy and impact the brain’s ability to think clearly. If depression and/or anxiety are the cause of your brain fog, you may also experience other symptoms that include:
- Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, and guilt
- Low energy
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping much more or much less than usual)
- Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or constant worrying
- Loss of interest in hobbies that you used to enjoy
- Change of appetite, including eating much more or much less than usual
Menopause and Other Hormonal Changes
Menopause and other hormonal changes, including perimenopause, changes in birth control medications, or pregnancy, can have an impact on your ability to focus, and can cause brain fog. During these hormonal changes, the levels of estrogen and progestin in the body are fluctuating significantly, which reduces your ability to focus; this is why some women talk about experiencing “baby brain” during pregnancy or in the months following the birth of a child. Once hormone levels stabilize, most women find that their brain fog dissipates.
The thyroid is an important gland that produces hormones that impact everything from the body’s metabolic rate to the function of the heart, muscles, and digestive system, as well as brain development and bone maintenance.
Cognitive function is often impacted by hypothyroidism, a condition in which the body does not produce enough thyroid hormones, and many people with the condition report becoming increasingly forgetful or having difficulty thinking clearly. If you have hypothyroidism, you may also experience the following symptoms:
- Feeling exhausted
- Weak, sore, or stiff muscles
- Unexplained weight gain despite no change in eating habits
- Getting cold more quickly than usual
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that causes a stripping of myelin, a substance that insulates and protects the nerve cells, from the spinal nerves and brain cells. Because multiple sclerosis acts on the central nervous system, the body is not able to properly send messages between the brain and other parts of the body. As a result, people with multiple sclerosis can have difficulty concentrating, solving problems, and eventually, speaking or even understanding others. People with multiple sclerosis may also experience other symptoms, including:
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble walking
- Vision problems
Fibromyalgia is a condition that is not widely understood, and doctors don’t know exactly what causes it or why it affects some people but not others. Fibromyalgia causes mental and physical exhaustion, and some people experience pain across their entire body as a result. It is common for people with fibromyalgia to experience brain fog – so common, in fact, that people with the disorder often refer to it as “fibro-fog.” People with fibromyalgia may also experience the following symptoms in addition to brain fog:
- Aches or pains across the entire body, sometimes lasting months
- Sleep problems, some of which result from pain that wakes you up, restless legs, or sleep apnea
- Extreme exhaustion
Sleep Apnea or Insomnia
If you’ve ever had a poor night’s sleep and had difficulty concentrating at work the next day, you know that sleep can play a major role in your ability to think clearly. People with chronic sleep issues, including sleep apnea or insomnia, are more likely to experience brain fog, but anyone who regularly sleeps less than seven to eight hours a night can have their memory and concentration impacted. Sleep apnea is a condition where you temporarily stop breathing multiple times during the night, which interrupts your sleep and prevents your body from getting the rest it needs.
People with sleep apnea might experience the following symptoms in addition to brain fog:
- Feeling exhausted upon waking
- Waking up choking or gasping
- Waking up with a headache or dry mouth
Taking Certain Medications
Certain medications can also contribute to brain fog. Specifically, medications called anticholinergics contribute to brain fog by blocking the effects of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which affect concentration and thus inhibit your ability to think clearly. Anticholinergics can be used to treat many different conditions, including Ditropan for overactive bladder, Benadryl for allergies, and Elavil for depression. Other medications, including chemotherapy, can also cause brain fog, but the feeling usually lifts once treatment is over.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found naturally in meat, eggs, and certain dairy products. Our bodies do not produce vitamin B12 naturally, so we need to consume an adequate amount through our diets. When a person is deficient in vitamin B12, it can cause brain fog and difficulty focusing. In addition to experiencing brain fog, people with a vitamin B12 deficiency may also experience the following symptoms:
- Weakness in the muscles
- Difficulty walking
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Feeling tired or weak
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome is another medical condition that is not widely understood. People are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome when they experience continuous physical and mental fatigue for a period of at least six months. Some of the most common symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include difficulty forming memories, trouble focusing, and difficulty thinking clearly. Other symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include:
- Extreme fatigue with no obvious cause
- Pain in the joints or muscles
- Sleep that is not restful
- Sore throat
How do you get rid of brain fog?
Brain fog is not only frustrating, it can also have serious impacts on your ability to perform well at work, school, and at home. Getting rid of brain fog is a priority for nearly every person who experiences it, but how you get rid of brain fog depends on the underlying cause of your condition.
The first step in getting rid of brain fog is to go to the doctor for an exam. Explain your brain fog symptoms to your doctor in addition to any other symptoms you may be experiencing. Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and may draw blood to run different tests in order to determine the cause of your symptoms.
If your brain fog is linked to an underlying medical condition, such as hypothyroidism or multiple sclerosis, seeking treatment for the underlying problem should help resolve your brain fog.
If there is no obvious physical medical reason for your brain fog, it may be that you are suffering from depression or anxiety and need to seek treatment for those issues in the form of medication or psychotherapy. Your doctor can refer you to a mental health professional for help, or you can take advantage of affordable, easily accessible online mental health clinics like YANA, where you have quick access to the help you need, including delivery of your medications right to your door.
Other people may find that their brain fog can be resolved by making lifestyle changes that improve their quality of sleep, limit stress, and improve their overall health. Lifestyle changes to help get rid of brain fog include:
- Getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night, preferably eight to nine hours, and practicing good sleep hygiene
- Exercising regularly, which can help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression and relieve stress
- Practicing activities or hobbies that you enjoy in order to improve your mood and reduce stress
- Avoiding excessive intake of caffeine or alcohol
- Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and health fats
- Reducing stress in your life where possible
- Strengthening your brain by doing brain games, volunteering, or trying a new hobby
If brain fog has become an increasingly noticeable problem for you, contact your doctor today to take the first step to finding a solution. Never forget: You Are Not Alone!