As a migraineur, you’ve likely heard the term brain fog, and maybe you have even experienced the distressing symptoms. Brain fog is not a medical term, but it is a commonly used phrase describing a confused, unfocused state of mind. You’re forgetful, can’t get your thoughts in order or retain information.
It’s distressing and worrying, and can indicate some kind of imbalance. There may be several causes of migraine-related brain fog, from lifestyle to medication side effects or illness.
Migraine-related Brain Fog Explained
When you’re experiencing mental fog, you might find it hard to concentrate. You could have that infuriating feeling where information or a thought is almost within reach, but slips away as you try to bring it into focus. We’ve all experienced suddenly forgetting a word or name, with the frustration of it being ‘on the tip of your tongue’.
Brain fog is like this, but much more far reaching.
When you're reading, you might find that by the time you reach the end of a sentence or paragraph, you’ve forgotten the beginning and need to go back and read it again. Or maybe you can’t collect your thoughts strongly enough to perform the most basic of your everyday tasks, such as adding up a grocery bill before you get to the checkout or even writing out a shopping list before you leave home.
Everything becomes a massive effort to focus and concentrate. Feelings of failure or inadequacy creep in, and this can lead to stress or depression, both of which might trigger migraine. Brain fog happens to some migraine sufferers at any stage of a migraine attack, and varies in intensity from one bout to the next.
It is an exhausting condition, and while it might amuse those around us because we struggle with everyday tasks, it’s far from funny for those patients who are affected.
Causes of Brain Fog
There are many different potential causes of brain fatigue, just as there are multiple different elements to migraine in general. Diet is a common culprit, so here are a few dietary factors to watch for:
- Sugar: High sugar levels can send your blood sugar spiraling up then crashing down, and this can lead to an imbalance of glucose in the brain. Impaired judgement, confusion, feeling irritable and having mood swings are all symptoms.
- Low Fat: Our brains need fat, so if you’ve been on a low fat diet as part of a calorie-controlled eating plan, maybe your fat intake has dropped too low. Keep a food diary to monitor your fat intake and adjust if necessary.
- Allergies: Allergic reactions to common foods such as soy, corn or wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts or shellfish, can cause brain fog or other more serious conditions. Wheat especially has been shown to contribute to dementia. Those with celiac disease are vulnerable.
- Additives: Processed foods contain all kinds of chemicals to improve flavor, shelf life, color or sweetness. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is common in many foods, including canned soups and salty snacks. But it’s also a hidden ingredient in packaged foods since companies are not required by law to label it. It can be hidden in ‘spices’, ‘flavorings’ or even the innocent-sounding ‘natural flavors’, and appear in so-called healthy options such as veggie burgers. This in a primary migraine trigger, and can also lead to brain fatigue.
Other possible brain fog causes include vitamin deficiencies. B12 deficiency is known to affect memory and is a common deficiency among adults. Vitamin D and Omega 3 deficiencies might also affect you, and a multivitamin supplement may help if you can’t improve diet or activity to prevent the deficiency.
Things That May Help Eliminate or Reduce Migraine-induced Brain Fog
- Get enough sleep. Good quality sleep is vital for clear thinking. During sleep we process memories and renew brain cells. It’s why things sometimes seem clearer in the morning. Poor sleep, especially poor sleep over a period of time, can impair memory, make concentrating hard, and affect mood, judgement and our ability to cope with stressful situations.
- Avoid Stress. Too much prolonged stress leads to anxiety, insomnia and impaired decision-making skills. Learning meditation techniques can help you deal with stress by deliberately calming the mind.
- Get enough exercise. Too often, modern lifestyles lead to a lack of physical activity. We don’t say a good walk ‘blows away the cobwebs’ for nothing. Exercise releases chemicals that stimulate the brain. Simply standing up more, or taking a short walk, can boost brain activity.
Experiencing brain fatigue is a common side effect of migraines, but there may be more serious underlying causes. If you’re experiencing brain fog for the first time, speak to your doctor about it. Other causes can be ruled out, and you may get advice to help you cope in your personal situation.