Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
March 20, 2022
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

Anesthesia brain fog is a type of cognitive decline that can occur after undergoing surgery.

Many people are not familiar with the term, but it is an actual condition that can cause a wide variety of symptoms.

If you are one of the many people who have experienced brain fog after anesthesia, you know how frustrating and debilitating it can be.

In this blog post, we will discuss what anesthesia fog is, the causes, symptoms, and remedies.

We hope this information will help you to understand this condition and find relief from your symptoms.

So, let’s get started.

What exactly is anesthesia fog?

Anesthesia fog is a type of condition that can occur after surgery, also commonly known as postoperative cognitive decline.

It is also known as postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) or anesthesia-related cognitive impairment (ARCI).

The condition is characterized by a decline in mental function, including memory, attention, and concentration. 

Anesthesia fog can occur in people of any age, but it is more common in older adults.

The condition is usually temporary and resolves within a few days or weeks. However, in some cases, anesthesia fog can last for months or even years.

What causes brain fog after anesthesia?

While the exact cause of anesthesia fog is unknown, it is believed to be caused by the anesthesia itself.

Anesthesia works by suppressing the brain’s activity. This can lead to a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which can cause postoperative cognitive decline.

There are several risk factors for anesthesia fog, including:

  • Age: Elderly patients are more likely to experience anesthesia fog and postoperative delirium, which causes immobilization and difficulty focusing. They often report that they are never the same after surgery. 
  • Health: People with certain health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes are more likely to experience brain fog from anesthesia.
  • Type of surgery: Some surgical procedures, such as cardiac surgery or neurosurgery, are more likely to cause anesthesia-induced brain fog.
  • Use of general anesthesia: General anesthesia is more likely to cause anesthesia fog or cognitive decline than other types of anesthesia, such as regional anesthesia.
  • Duration of anesthesia: The longer the anesthesia is used, the greater the risk for developing mental fog from anesthesia. 

What are the symptoms of anesthesia brain fog?

The symptoms of anesthesia fog can vary from person to person. They may include:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble multitasking
  • Slowed thinking
  • Fatigue
  • Anxious thoughts and feelings
  • Depressive symptoms 

Mental fog from anesthesia can interfere with your ability to perform everyday tasks, such as driving or cooking.

It can also make it difficult for you to return to work or school after surgery, especially if the cognitive decline lingers longer than usual.

The symptoms of anesthesia fog can range from mild to severe. In most cases, the symptoms are mild and resolve within a few days or weeks.

However, in some cases, the cognitive decline symptoms can be more severe and last for months or even years.

If you are struggling with the symptoms mentioned above for entirely too long now, it’s important to consult with a doctor as soon as possible.

How long does brain fog last after anesthesia?

The symptoms of brain fog after anesthesia usually resolve within a few days or weeks. However, in some cases, they may persist for months or even years

There are several factors that can affect how long anesthesia fog lasts, including:

The type of anesthesia used

Different types of anesthesia can have different effects on the brain. General anesthesia or deep anesthesia is more likely to cause lingering anesthesia-induced brain fog than other types of anesthesia, such as regional anesthesia. 

The length of time the anesthesia is used

The longer the anesthesia is used during your surgery, the greater the risk for you to develop lingering mental fog from anesthesia. 

The type of surgery you had

Cardiac surgery and neurosurgery, for example, are more prone to produce anesthesia-induced brain fog than other types of surgical procedures.

Your age

Older adults are more likely to experience brain inflammation and lingering brain fog from anesthesia than younger adults.

Your overall health

People with certain health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, are more likely to experience a lingering cognitive decline from anesthesia fog than patients without underlying health conditions.

If you are struggling with brain fog from anesthesia, it is essential to talk to your doctor.

They can help you manage your symptoms and make sure that you are getting the proper care and treatment that you need.

How to get rid of brain fog from anesthesia? 

A lot of people also wonder how to reverse memory loss after anesthesia. But there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. The best way to get rid of mental fog after anesthesia varies from person to person.

Some people may find that their symptoms improve on their own within a few days or weeks. Others may need more time to recover.

However, there are several things that you can do to help manage the symptoms of anesthesia fog and brain fog in general.

These include:

Getting plenty of rest, especially enough sleep

It goes without saying that adequate sleep each night and plenty of rest throughout the day, especially after your surgery, play a critical role in your recovery after major surgery. 

Make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep each night and take breaks during the day to rest your body and mind.

Eating a healthy diet

A healthy diet is vital for everyone, but it is especially crucial if you are recovering from surgery and anesthesia fog.

Make sure to consume a lot of fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and lean protein.

Limit your intake of processed foods, sugary beverages, and excessive amounts of coffee and alcohol.

Getting regular exercise

Exercise has numerous benefits, including reducing stress, improving brain function, and boosting your mood.

All of these things can help to improve the symptoms of anesthesia fog.

Start with moderate exercise and gradually increase the intensity as you feel more comfortable.

Staying hydrated

Dehydration can make anesthesia fog worse. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially water.

You may also want to avoid caffeine and alcohol as they can contribute to dehydration.  

Managing stress

Stress can aggravate brain fog after anesthesia. Make sure to find healthy ways to manage your stress, such as exercise, yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises.

Considering acupuncture 

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions.

Recent studies have shown that acupuncture can help improve the symptoms of cognitive impairment, including brain fog.

If you are struggling with anesthesia fog, talk to your doctor about whether acupuncture could be right for you.

Seeing a chiropractor 

Chiropractic care is a type of alternative medicine that focuses on the relationship between the body’s musculoskeletal system and overall health.

Recent research has shown that chiropractic care can help alleviate symptoms of cognitive dysfunction, such as brain fog, headaches, and dizziness.

If you are struggling with lingering brain fog after anesthesia, talk to your doctor about whether chiropractic care could be right for you.

Talking to your doctor about your symptoms 

It’s critical to speak with your doctor if you’re having trouble treating the lingering brain fog from anesthesia.

A physician can assist you in managing your symptoms and ensuring that you receive the proper care and therapy. 

They may also suggest other treatments, such as medication or physical therapy.

Anesthesia-induced brain fog can be a frustrating and debilitating condition. However, there are things that you can do to manage your symptoms and feel better, such as the ones listed above.

Other Side Effects of Anesthesia

Anesthesia is generally safe, but as with any medication or anesthetic drugs, there are potential side effects.

The most common side effects of anesthesia include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shivering
  • Itching
  • Confusion and disorientation 
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Fatigue 
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache

Anesthesia can also cause more severe side effects, such as:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Nerve damage
  • Kidney failure
  • Other long-term effects of anesthesia on the brain, such as memory loss

These serious side effects are rare and typically only occur in people who have pre-existing medical conditions.

If you experience any serious side effects after anesthesia, seek medical help immediately.

General Anesthetics and Neurotoxicity

Anesthetics are generally safe, but there is a potential for neurotoxicity.

Neurotoxicity is when the anesthesia damages the nerves. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Memory problems 
  • Confusion
  • Anxious thoughts and feelings
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing loss 

The risk of neurotoxicity is higher in people who:

  • Have diabetes
  • Are obese
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have a history of alcohol abuse
  • Have a history of substance abuse
  • Are over the age of 60

The risk of neurotoxicity is also higher with certain types of anesthesia, such as propofol, ketamine, and other experimental oral drugs for anesthesia.

If you are concerned about the potential for neurotoxicity, talk to your doctor about your risks.

Concluding Thoughts 

Anesthesia fog is a common and frustrating side effect of anesthesia.

However, there are things you can do to control your symptoms and get back to feeling normal.

If you are struggling with brain fog after anesthesia, talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for you.

If you want to learn more about brain fog and how to treat it more effectively, check out these educational blog posts and feel free to join this online community of brain health and cognitive function enthusiasts.

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