What is brain fog?
Brain fog by itself isn’t a medical condition—rather it’s generally a symptom of something else. “It is often described as confusion, forgetfulness, disorganized thoughts or a lack of focus and mental clarity,” explains Dr. Philip Kimsey, a functional medicine doctor in Chestnut Mountain, Ga., who frequently sees patients complaining of this condition. “It is very subjective,” he adds, noting that this is why a thorough medical history, physical examination and laboratory evaluation are typically the mainstays for determining the cause of brain fog.
“When you have brain fog, it can feel as though your brain just isn’t working as fast or as well as usual,” explains Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, a pain medicine specialist in New York and Chief Medical Officer of Clearing. You may find yourself mentally fumbling for certain words or having trouble concentrating or focusing; you might also get distracted more than usual, have trouble completing your train of thought, and forget things.
What causes it?
Bouts of occasional brain fog, says Hascalovici, can be a symptom of normal, healthy aging and isn’t always something to be deeply concerned about. Unlike dementia, Alzheimer's and other long-term cognitive conditions, brain fog is often temporary and/or reversible.
Brain fog can be a symptom of a whole host of issues, including, for example:
- Sleep disorders
- Depression or other mental health disorders
- Medication side effect/over medicated
- Celiac disease
- Issues with blood sugar regulation
- Hormonal changes (such as pregnancy or menopause)
- Illicit substances
“Many, if not most, brain fog cases are due to poor lifestyle habits,” says Kimsey. The good news, he says, is that if that is the case, if you can make the changes in your lifestyle habits (such as eating a healthier diet, optimizing good sleep habits, exercise, engaging in stress reduction activities) the symptoms may resolve themselves.
Another cause listed above is medication side effects. “This is often overlooked, especially in patients who are on multiple medications and in the elderly,” Kimsey explains. So, it is very important that if you are experiencing brain fog symptoms that you let your healthcare professional know exactly what you are taking, including prescription medication, over the counter medication and supplements.
What should I do if I have brain fog?
“If your brain fog is a regularly recurring symptom, causing issues at work or in your relationships, keeping you from specific duties, then it would be wise to seek out a medical evaluation to get to the root cause,” says Kimsey. In cases when the cause is not readily found on an initial evaluation, he explains, further lab testing and brain imaging may be warranted.
The big takeaway is that in general, most individuals may not have to stress over occasional bouts of fogginess after a night of poor sleeping or when taking a new medication. And as people get older, their brains change and things like not being able to multitask as well or being slower to recall a word every now and then may become more common and simply due to aging. But when in doubt, it’s generally good to see your doctor to have new symptoms evaluated, especially if brain fog is something that lingers.
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