One of the terms that you will commonly hear a person living with a chronic health condition refer to is “brain fog”. I wanted to write something about this today because there’s often a misunderstanding about what it all involves. Brain fog isn’t a medical condition itself rather its a symptom of other medical conditions. Now to be clear I am not a physician so anything I’m writing here is my person opinion or research that I have done to educate myself.
I guess one of the reason’s that I wanted to write about “brain fog” was to give people a better understanding of all the different ways that one can be affected. With a disease like CRPS I am constantly adjusting medications according to the pain levels that I deal with. So yes! Medications are definitely are a common cause of brain fog but not the only cause. I think people naturally gravitate toward thinking that the only causes are medications but there’s a lot more to it than that.
The most common causes of “brain fog” are stress, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, diet, medications, and medical conditions. So when you ask a person living with a chronic illness if they suffer from brain fog the answer is usually more often than not going to be yes. If you look at all these different causes most of us living with chronic illness can tick a lot of the boxes when it comes to different causes. For me personally when it comes to medications I take neuropathic agents such as gabapentin and amitriptyline, and I am more prone to having episodes of fogginess in my mind. Then there are also the opiates that I take which are also known to reduce mental clarity as well. So constant changes like mine can often make it worse if I’m requiring higher doses.
When it comes to medical conditions, ones like autoimmune diseases, depression, migraines, and hypothyroidism are just a few that can cause periods of cloudiness. These different medical conditions themselves often have symptoms which are some of the other causes. Five out of the six conditions I listed have symptoms that are causes of brain fog.
So can we get rid of brain fog? I’ll leave that answer to the experts but there are definitely things we can do in order to reduce the symptoms. The two easiest changes that we can make in my opinion are diet and sleep. When you look at diet there are a few ways that you can adjust things in order to minimize brain fog. Making sure that you are getting foods high in B-12 is important because it supports healthy brain function. If you suffer from food allergies or sensitivities then avoiding foods with MSG, aspartame, and dairy can be a good idea because those can be triggers.
Sleep is pretty self-explanatory in that without the proper rest our brain function is naturally not as good. We need about 8-9 hrs per night. This can be really difficult for someone with a chronic illness at the best of times. If I’m lucky on a good night I get about 3-4hrs so it can make the brain fog bad. If I take naps however I can certainly reduce the number of symptoms that I deal with. I try and adapt healthy sleeping habits the best I can, that means trying to sleep even though my body may not want me to. Staying in a restful state at least gives my body a fighting chance at getting the rest it needs.
Another cause of brain fog is stress. Chronic stress can raise blood pressure, weaken the immune system and trigger depression. Eventually, your brain reaches the point where its just exhausted and it becomes difficult to think, reason, and even focus. Those of us who live with chronic illnesses know all too well what I’m talking about! So finding a way to reduce stress in your life when your living with a chronic illness becomes very important. The practicing of yoga or meditation tends to be two of the more popular ways for people living with chronic illness to do that.
There are so many different reasons that individuals suffer from brain fog when it comes to chronic illness. Yet the first one that comes to mind for so many is medication. Why is that? Is there a stigma built up around it? Clearly, medication does play a role but so do a lot of other things. When you look at the different causes of brain fog, you can see that often those affected by a chronic illness suffer from one or more of those causes. In a lot of ways, I can relate it to that of an ecosystem. When just one thing gets thrown out of balance within an ecosystem then it throws off the entire balance of that ecosystem. The same thing can happen when it comes to our brain and its cognitive function.
So as you can see from how I have explained things in this post, managing our chronic illness is important even if it’s for this one reason alone. We may not be able to stop all of the symptoms from happening but we do have the ability to try and reduce their effects. I hope that by explaining this the way that I have that it brings a bit more clarity to the picture. Medication is but one part of a bigger pict when it comes to brain fog. In the last few years, I’ve tried to make significant changes to my self-care and I can honestly say that it has helped. Periods of fogginess are less frequent and not as bad as they once were. I’m sure to some extent because I live with an autoimmune disease that I will always have to battle brain fog to some degree. I can however try and do everything I can to help reduce those symptoms.