Brain fog is defined as a normally temporary state of diminished mental capacity, marked by the inability to concentrate or reason clearly. This clouded consciousness can cause you to have trouble concentrating, remembering things, processing information, or coming up with words. And although this isn’t a medical condition in itself, it occurs as a common feature of conditions such as Ehlers Danlos syndrome, lupus, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression.
Now, brain fog is neither progressive nor linked to declining intellect, but its also important to note that it can be confusing and bewildering to a person’s confidence and self-esteem. Brain fog affects patients at varying degrees with varying frequency, But in an online survey put on by the ME Association (an association focused on the treatment and relife of chronic fatigue syndrome), they found that one third of respondents dais that their brain fog is the most constant and disabling aspect of the chronic illness, and that it is often exacerbated by mental exertion. Dr. Charles Shepherd, the medical advisor to the ME Association, says, “In the same way that too much physical activity will quickly produce muscle fatigue, prolonged or intense mental activity will bring or exacerbate brain fragile and the cognitive problems that accompany it”.
In those with HSD/EDS it is thought that brain fog may be related to the lack of blood flow to the brain due to blood pooling in the legs because of stretchy veins. And although there is still more research to be done, it appears that brain fog is more common in those with POTS secondary to their EDS/HSD diagnosis. In addition to POTS, hormones can also influence fatigue and brain fog. Many women have reported worsened brain fog while menstruating or during pregnancy, and they have also found that birth control can either worsen or or help alleviate symptoms, depending on the prescription and patient.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also cause or worsen brain fog. Making sure that you are eating a healthy balanced diet is important, and often if symptoms are severe, your doctor will order blood panels to find out if there are any specific deficiencies. Common deficiencies that are associated with brain fog include anemia (iron deficiency), vitamin D, vitamin B, and potassium.
For many, the best way of managing brain fo is by “pacing” — or balancing activity with rest to avoid becoming overwhelmed. For those with EDS this concept echos the spoon theory. By emphasizing on energy management patients are able to find a comfortable baseline of mental exertion and are able to split it up into small, manageable sessions with relaxation periods in between.
As you can see, dealing with the symptoms of brain fog is a multifaceted process with lots of trial and error. Here are a few more tips for regulating your brain fog!
If you experience short term memory loss, keeping lists and journals with your daily activities and duties is helpful, but remember to refer back to it multiple times a day!
Give your commonly lost items “homes”. If you are familiar with misplacing your keys or cell phone, designate a spot in your home for those items to live! Having permanent spaces for things helps diminish stress and mental exertion from of your day.
When taking in new information, try repeating or rewriting the information back to yourself. This can help make new information easier to retain!
Avoid caffeine and sugar! While these treats might make you feel less tired in the short term, they can make fatigue worse. Reducing or halting your sugar and caffeine intake can reduce energy fluctuations and make you feel more stable and less fatigued.
Stay hydrated. This seems like a no brainer, especially for those with EDS/HSD. But hydration is important to ensure a good flow of blood to your brain, in turn helping your brain function.
Most importantly, make sure you ahve the support you need. It is hard to cope with brain fog and cognitive dysfunction, so be sure to have a support system that can help lift you up in moments where you feel foggy.