Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
September 29, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

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

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Do you have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)? Do you feel like your brain is in a fog most of the time? You’re not alone.

Brain fog is a well-known symptom of CFS and other health problems. It can make it difficult to think clearly and remember things.

While there’s no cure for brain fog, there are ways you can manage it, especially if you know what exactly causes it.

This article will discuss strategies for managing CFS brain fog, including how to create a helpful environment, stay organized, and get enough rest.

Let’s get started.

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, exactly?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), is a chronic, debilitating condition characterized by extreme fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest.

Many body systems are affected by ME/CFS, which is a serious, long-term disorder. People with this condition are often not able to do activities that they typically enjoy or find easy because of severe fatigue.

CFS may severely fatigue or confine people to bed. Additionally, those with ME/CFS often have difficulty sleeping and thinking clearly, also known as having brain fog.

To make matters worse, attempting to do too much can actually exacerbate symptoms of ME/CFS, also known as post-exertional malaise (PEM).

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claims that the number of individuals suffering from ME/CFS is between 836,000 and 2.5 million in the United States. However, the majority of them have not been diagnosed.

What causes Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Researchers are still trying to figure out what causes ME/CFS. It’s possible that this sickness has more than one source, such as the following:

Genetics

If ME/CFS runs in your family, you may be more likely to develop the condition. There are times when many members of the same family have CFS.

Also, researchers have found that both genes and environment could be involved in ME/CFS, based on studies done in twins and families.

Scientists have yet to identify the specific genes or other elements outside of the person’s control that might cause it. Additional study is needed.

Viral Infections

CFS may be linked to certain viral infections. For example, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is one of the viruses that’s been studied in connection with chronic fatigue syndrome.

About 95% of people have had EBV by the time they reach adulthood. Most don’t experience any serious symptoms.

However, EBV has been linked to several chronic illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and lupus.

Studies have shown that people with CFS are more likely than others to have chronic EBV infections. However, it’s not clear if the virus causes CFS or if it’s just a coincidence.

Other viruses that have been studied in connection with CFS include:

  • Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6)
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Enteroviruses
  • Rubella
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Candida albicans
  • Mycoplasma
  • Bornaviruses

Immune System Problems

It’s possible that CFS is caused by problems with immunity.

In fact, many people with CFS have abnormalities in their natural killer cells, which are a type of white blood cell that fights off infections.

Additionally, people with CFS often have higher levels of cytokines.

Cytokines are chemicals that help regulate the immune system.

Some researchers believe that CFS may be caused by an abnormal immune response to an infection.

Hormones Imbalances

There is some evidence that CFS may be related to problems with hormones, such as the adrenal gland hormone cortisol.

One study found that people with CFS found that those with the lowest levels of cortisol were more likely to have CFS.

Additionally, people with chronic fatigue syndrome often have abnormal blood levels of thyroid hormone.

Thyroid problems are common in the general population, and they’re also one of the most common causes of chronic fatigue.

Mental Health Conditions

People with CFS are more likely to have mental health conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

It’s not clear if mental health problems are a cause or a symptom of CFS. However, it’s possible that they play a role in the development and worsening of symptoms.

Physical or Emotional Trauma

Physical or emotional trauma has also been linked to CFS.

For example, people who have experienced a car accident or another type of traumatic event are more likely to develop CFS.

Additionally, people who were abused as children are also at a higher risk for CFS.

It’s not clear how physical or emotional trauma might cause chronic fatigue syndrome. However, it’s possible that these events could trigger changes in the immune system or other biological processes.

Sleep Problems

People with CFS often have sleep problems, such as insomnia.

It’s not clear if sleep problems are a cause of CFS or a symptom.

However, research suggests that sleep problems can contribute to the development of CFS.

For example, one study found that people with chronic fatigue syndrome who also had insomnia were more likely to have worse symptoms and a lower quality of life than those who didn’t have sleep problems.

Additionally, people with CFS often have sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.

What are the symptoms of ME/CFS?

There isn’t a single symptom that’s diagnostic of CFS.

Instead, the condition is diagnosed based on the presence of a specific number of symptoms that last for at least six months and are not due to another medical condition.

The most common symptoms of CFS include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Sleep problems
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Brain fog
  • Memory problems
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-exertional malaise (PEM), when CFS symptoms worsen after physical or mental exertion.

People with CFS may also experience symptoms such as:

  • Temperature sensitivity
  • Night sweats
  • Visual problems
  • Hypersensitivity to noise or light
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight gain or loss

The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people with CFS are only mildly affected, while others are severely disabled.

Symptoms can also come and go, or they may fluctuate throughout the day.

People with CFS typically experience symptoms for six months or longer.

What are the risk factors of CFS?

There are a number of risk factors that may increase your chances of developing CFS, including:

  • Age: CFS is most common in adults between the ages of 40 and 60. However, it can occur in people of any age, including children and adolescents.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop CFS than men.
  • Infection: People who have had certain infections, such as Epstein-Barr virus CFS.
  • Stress: Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss, may increase your risk for CFS.
  • Genetics: You may be more likely to develop CFS if you have a family member with the condition.

What are the complications of CFS?

Chronic fatigue syndrome can lead to a number of complications, including:

  • Depression: People with CFS are at an increased risk for depression.
  • Anxiety: People with CFS may also experience anxiety.
  • PEM: Some people with CFS may experience post-exertional malaise (PEM), which is a worsening of symptoms after physical or mental exertion.
  • Sleep disorders: People with CFS often have sleep disorders such as insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome.
  • Cognitive impairment: People with CFS may have difficulty concentrating, remembering things, and making decisions. This is often referred to as “brain fog.”
  • Lifestyle Restrictions: CFS can significantly impair your ability to work, go to school, or participate in other activities.
  • Social Isolation: CFS can lead to social isolation due to fatigue and other symptoms.
  • Increased health care costs: CFS can also lead to increased health care costs due to the need for doctor’s visits, medication, and other treatments.

How is CFS Diagnosed?

There is no single test that can diagnose CFS.

Instead, the diagnosis is made based on the presence of a specific number of symptoms that last for at least six months and are not due to another medical condition or any other underlying health problem.

Your healthcare providers will likely start with a physical exam and a review of your medical history. They may also order blood tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

If no other underlying medical condition is found, your doctor may diagnose CFS based on the following criteria:

  1. You have significant fatigue that lasts for at least six months and is not due to another medical condition.
  2. You have four or more of the following symptoms:
    • Cognitive impairment, such as brain fog
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Memory problems
    • Sore throat
    • Enlarged lymph nodes
    • Unexplained muscle pain
    • Joint pain without swelling or redness
    • Headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity
    • Unrefreshing sleep
    • Fatigue that gets worse with physical or mental activity
    • You have experienced a significant change in your ability to function at work, school, or home.

How is CFS Treated?

There is no one-size-fits-all cure for CFS, but there are treatments that can help improve your symptoms.

Your doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and therapies. Some of the most common treatments for CFS include:

Exercise: Exercise can help improve your symptoms and increase your energy levels. However, it’s important to start slowly and increase your activity level gradually.

Sleep: Getting enough sleep is crucial for people with CFS. Your doctor may recommend using a sleep aid if you have difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Stress management: Managing stress can help reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Your doctor may recommend relaxation techniques such as yoga, massage, spending time in nature, or meditation.

Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy can help you deal with the emotional impact of CFS. Your therapist may also teach you coping and problem-solving skills.

Diet: Eating a healthy diet is important for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Your doctor may recommend eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They may also recommend avoiding caffeine and alcohol.

Supplements: Taking certain supplements can help improve your symptoms, especially when it comes to cognitive dysfunction. Your doctor may recommend taking a multivitamin, omega-3 fatty acids, or CoQ10.

Medications: There are a number of medications that can be used to alleviate CFS. Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants, pain relievers, or sleeping pills.

CFS is a condition that can significantly impair your quality of life. However, there are treatments available that can help you manage your symptoms and improve your overall well-being. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for you.

What is brain fog, exactly?

Most of us have experienced brain fog at some point or another. You know the feeling: You can’t focus, you’re forgetful, and you just feel “off.”

Brain fog is one of the symptoms of CFS, but it can also be caused by other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and thyroid problems.

Brain fog can make it difficult to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions. You may also feel “foggy” mentally or physically sluggish.

How to Manage CFS Brain Fog Effectively

There are a few things you can do to help manage your brain fog from CFS:

Prioritize your sleep.

Sleep is crucial for cognitive function, especially for people with CFS.

So, make sure you’re getting enough rest by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine.

Make sure you’re getting enough brain-supporting nutrients.

Certain nutrients are essential for brain health, such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and magnesium.

You can get these nutrients by eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You may also want to consider taking supplements if you’re not getting enough of these nutrients from your diet.

Rehydrate well and often.

Dehydration can make brain fog worse, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day.

Aim for at least eight glasses of water per day, and drink more if you’re sweating or urinating frequently. You can also try sipping on herbal tea or sparkling water to stay even more hydrated, especially if you don’t like drinking water that much.

Train your brain with entertaining brain games.

Just like you exercise your body to stay physically fit, you need to exercise your brain to stay mentally sharp.

One of the best ways to do this is by playing brain games that challenge you mentally but also entertain you. There are dozens of apps and websites that offer brain games, so you can find one that’s right for you.

Avoid multitasking.

When you have brain fog, it’s best to focus on one task at a time. Multitasking can make your symptoms worse and make it even harder to concentrate.

So, take things one step at a time, and don’t try to do too much at once. This will help you stay focused and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

In Conclusion

CFS brain fog can be frustrating and impair your quality of life. However, there are things you can do to manage your symptoms.

By following the tips above, you can help improve your brain fog and make day-to-day tasks a little bit easier.

Remember to talk to your doctor if your symptoms are impacting your life significantly. They can help you come up with a more comprehensive treatment plan.

If you want to learn more about natural brain fog treatment and how to improve your overall cognitive function, check out these helpful resources from our blog

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