Written by Tara Boustany on
April 12, 2022
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Tara Boustany on:

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Brain fog after surgery is a very common side effect that can occur in the days, weeks, and even months following surgery. It can be quite debilitating and make it difficult for you to think clearly or focus on anything.

If you are experiencing a “foggy head” after surgery, fret not. You are not alone.

In this blog post, we will discuss nine natural ways to clear your head and get your life back on track and more.

So, let’s get started.

What exactly is brain fog?

Brain fog or mental fog is a type of cognitive decline or mild cognitive impairment.

The term is used to describe the feeling of mental confusion or forgetfulness. It can be accompanied by other symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and difficulty concentrating. 

For some people, mental fog can be a minor annoyance. But for others, it can be a significant disruption to their daily lives.

Mental fog can occur for a variety of reasons. It could be due to stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, or dehydration. It is also common in people who suffer from anxiety and depression.

In some cases, brain fog can be a side effect of certain medications or medical conditions.

And last but not least, mental fog is a very common side effect of surgery.

What causes brain fog after surgery?

There are a few different factors that can contribute to brain fog after surgery.

The first is general anesthesia. When you are put under deep anesthesia, your body and brain go through some significant cognitive changes.

General anesthesia can cause side effects such as confusion, disorientation, and memory loss.

It is not uncommon for people to feel foggy-headed and “out of it” for the first few days after surgery.

Another factor that can contribute to mental fog is pain medication. Pain medication can cause drowsiness and make it difficult to focus and think clearly.

Lastly, the stress of surgery can also lead to mental fog.

The physical and emotional stress of surgery, especially a major surgery, such as a brain or cardiac surgery, can take a toll on your body and mind.

It is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed, exhausted and foggy-headed after surgery.

What are the common symptoms of brain fog?

The symptoms of mental fog can vary from person to person. But there are some common symptoms that many people experience.

These include:

  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating
  • trouble multitasking
  • forgetfulness
  • confusion
  • disorientation
  • short-term memory loss

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor first, so they can help you come up with management options or coping strategies that are right for you. 

How long does brain fog last after surgery?

The good news is that for most people, mental fog is only temporary. It usually goes away within a few days or weeks.

However, some people may experience brain fog for more extended periods of time. In some cases, mental fog can last for months or even years.

If you are experiencing mental fog long after your surgery, it is essential to talk to your doctor. There could be underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed.  

Can brain fog be diagnosed?

There is no specific brain fog test or mental fog diagnosis.

However, your doctor can ask you questions about your symptoms and rule out other conditions that could be causing the problems, especially if you have lingering mental fog symptoms long after your surgery. 

Your doctor may also order some tests, such as blood tests or brain scans, to rule out other possible underlying conditions.

How to clear brain fog after surgery?

Now that we know what mental fog is and what can cause it, let’s talk about how to clear it up.

There are a few things you can do to help clear the fog, reverse the postoperative cognitive decline, and get your life back on track.

Here are nine natural ways to clear brain fog after surgery:

Recover through diet and rest

After surgery, your body needs time to recover. This means getting plenty of rest and eating a healthy diet.

A well-balanced diet includes a variety of lean protein, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables.

Excessive amounts of caffeine and sugary beverages, as well as processed foods, should also be avoided, especially during your recovery.

Getting enough sleep is also crucial for recovery. Most people need around eight hours of sleep per night.

But during the first few weeks after surgery, you may need even more than that.

So make sure to get plenty of rest and give your body the time it needs to recover.

Develop good sleep habits

Having trouble sleeping can make your mental fog worse. So, it’s crucial to develop good sleep habits.

To get a good night’s sleep, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed, establish a regular sleep schedule, and create a relaxing bedtime routine.

You should also avoid working or using electronic devices in bed.

And make sure to keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.

Get regular aerobic exercise. 

Exercise is a great way to prevent cognitive decline and clear your mental fog.

Aerobic exercise, in particular, has been shown to improve brain health.

So, make sure to get regular aerobic exercises, such as jogging, swimming, biking, or a quick walk in the park, as soon as your recovery allows it.

Do some brain-training exercises.

Brain-training exercises, such as puzzles, brainteasers, and memory games, can also help improve brain function, clear your mental fog, and keep postoperative cognitive decline at bay.

So, try to play some brain games every day.

You can find brain-training exercises online or in apps like Lumosity or Elevate.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that can help you focus and be more present.

And research shows that mindfulness can improve brain function, reduce your mental fog, and prevent the risks of cognitive decline.

To practice mindfulness, try to focus on your breath and the sensations in your body.

And when your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the present moment.

You can practice mindfulness anywhere, at any time.

There are also many mindfulness apps, such as Headspace, Insight Timer, and Calm, that can help you get started.

Rehydrate often 

Dehydration can cause brain fog. So, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, throughout the day.

It would be best if you also avoided alcohol and sugary drinks, as they can dehydrate you.

And make sure to drink even more fluids if you’re exercising or in a hot environment.

Remain socially connected and active

Social interaction and activity can help improve your cognitive function and alleviate mental fog.

So, make sure to stay socially connected and active.

You can do this by joining social clubs or groups online, going out with friends as soon as you have fully recovered from your surgery, or volunteering.

You can also try attending events, such as concerts, lectures, or book readings. 

Consider acupuncture

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting thin needles into the skin.

Research shows that acupuncture can help enhance cognitive health and eliminate brain fog.

So, if you’re looking for an alternative treatment option, consider acupuncture.

See a chiropractor

A chiropractor is a health care professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders.

And research shows that chiropractic adjustments to dysfunctional spinal joints have significantly increased the activity of the patients’ prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain where extensive cognition and learning take place. 

This goes to show that chiropractic care can help enhance your brain health and alleviate symptoms of mental fog.

So, if you’re experiencing brain fog after surgery, consider seeing a chiropractor once your recovery allows it and as long as your doctor approves it.

What is postoperative cognitive dysfunction? 

Post-operative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) is a type of brain fog that can occur after surgery.

POCD can cause problems with memory, concentration, attention, and thinking.

The good news is that POCD is usually temporary and reversible.

However, in some cases, POCD can become a long-term problem.

Risk factors for POCD include:

  • Advanced age
  • A history of stroke or brain injury
  • Poor physical health before surgery
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea 

If you’re experiencing POCD even days or weeks after your operation or major surgery (i.e., brain surgery, cardiac surgery), talk to your doctor about it.

They can help you determine if your mental fog is due to POCD or another cause.

And they can also provide you with tips on how to cope with brain fog and improve your cognitive function.

Who is most at risk for postoperative delirium?

Postoperative delirium is a common complication after surgery, particularly in older adults.

It means having a confused state of mind that can last for a few hours to several days after surgery—something that is often worse than brain fog.

It’s estimated that postoperative delirium occurs in up to 50% of elderly surgical patients.

There are several risk factors for developing postoperative delirium, such as:

  • age (the elderly are at higher risk)
  • preoperative cognitive impairment
  • sleep deprivation
  • postoperative pain
  • the use of certain medications, such as steroids or sedatives
  • a history of alcohol abuse or psychiatric disorders
  • having a surgery that lasts longer than usual
  • being in the intensive care unit (ICU) for more than two days.

If you or someone you know is at risk for postoperative delirium, your doctor will likely take measures to prevent it, such as:

  • optimizing your sleep before surgery
  • ensuring that you have a stable blood pressure before and during the surgery
  • using regional anesthesia instead of general anesthesia
  • minimizing the use of postoperative opioids
  • using non-pharmacological interventions, such as music therapy.

Wrapping Up

Brain fog can be a frustrating side effect of surgery. But the good news is that there are natural ways to clear brain fog and improve your cognitive function.

So, if you’re looking for ways to eliminate brain fog after surgery, consider trying some of the tips mentioned above. And as always, make sure to talk to your doctor before trying any new treatments.

If you want to learn more about brain fog and how to clear it naturally and effectively, here are some educational blog posts to read, and feel free to join this online community of brain health enthusiasts

Join The Mental Health Community You've Been Dreaming Of

This discord family is a safe place where we can all (anonymously if we choose) talk about and seek help for what is going on in our heads.

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