While not a scientific medical term, “brain fog” is a common phrase used to describe difficulty concentrating. The definition can be pretty broad, but Michael Gebel, MD, a neurologist with Baptist Neurology Group, helped bring clarity to the condition.
What is brain fog?
The term is used to describe memory problems, lack of mental clarity, confusion or forgetfulness.
“In medicine, we call an altered mental state ‘encephalopathy’ or ‘delirium,’” explained Dr. Gebel. “The layperson may refer to it as brain fog. These are broad terms that describe people who aren’t thinking things through clearly or who have a decreased level of consciousness.”
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor. Dr. Gebel emphasized, “There is no such thing as ‘normal’ brain fog.”
What causes brain fog?
Some of the most common causes include:
- Medication side effects
- Lack of sleep
- Alcohol overuse
- Long-COVID-19 or other infection
The most important thing to remember: “If you develop brain fog for no obvious reason, seek immediate medical attention,” said Dr. Gebel. “It could be an indication of something serious, so it’s best to get it checked out.”
If medication results in brain fog, reach out to the prescribing doctor to discuss alternatives. Never stop a medication without consulting a doctor first, Dr. Gebel cautioned.
Is pregnancy causing my brain fog?
While you may have heard the phrases “pregnancy brain” or “mom brain,” these phenomena are not necessarily linked to encephalopathy. Hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, anxiety and stress, and distractibility are likely the root cause of difficulty focusing during pregnancy or early motherhood.
Use it or lose it
“To help prevent brain fog and improve cognition, we go back to the timeless strategy of ‘use it or lose it,’” said Dr. Gebel. He recommended good nutrition, social interaction, puzzles and reading to maintain a healthy mind. Avoidance of excessive alcohol or drug use is also paramount in preventing the fog.
In addition to long-COVID-19 infections causing brain fog, mental health impacts from the pandemic also increased the prevalence of encephalopathy. According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide.
Those who experience these conditions often also have brain fog.
“Isolation during the pandemic had a significant impact on our elderly population,” said Dr. Gebel. “Reintegrating into society will help exercise the brain and will help fight against depression.”
If you’re experiencing cognition issues or “brain fog,” it’s time to see a doctor. If you’re looking for a doctor that’s right for you, fill out the appointment request form. Learn more about Baptist Neurology Group.