Written by Tara Boustany on
July 12, 2021
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Tara Boustany on:

In order to understand how long does brain fog lasts, it helps to understand the different causes and how each situation is completely different.

What is brain fog?

Brain fog is a set of symptoms that many people experience at some point in their lives. It is also referred to as fuzzy-headedness, mental fatigue, and clouding of consciousness. It is not a medical condition or a psychiatric disorder but a state of decreased mental capacity. Not being able to concentrate, think, or reason are the main characteristics of a brain fog. Brain fog is a frustrating and draining experience that can affect all aspects of a person’s life.

Some examples of how brain fog can affect a person’s life include:

  • Forgetting about something they had to do
  • Taking a longer time than usual to complete a simple task
  • Feeling tired and distracted all the time
  • Inability to pay attention or memorize

What are the symptoms associated with brain fog?

Symptoms of brain fog include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Chronic fatigue symptom
  • Cognitive decline
  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Feeling tired
  • Haziness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to focus
  • Difficulty in problem-solving

What causes the fog feeling?

The exact cause of brain fog is not clear. Many conditions, whether simple or complex, affect the brain and can cause brain fog and impair cognitive function. Some of the most common causes of brain fog are:

1. Mental health conditions that cause stress

Stress takes a lot of energy. When someone is always stressed, they need to use even more of that energy to focus on other tasks. This makes it harder to concentrate and think properly.

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. When stress and brain fog start interfering in a person’s daily life, this is when they should seek medical care. Some mental health conditions that can lead to stress and brain fog are:

Generalized anxiety (GAD): GAD is constant and excessive worry about many different things. Many criteria should be taken into consideration when diagnosing GAD. Restlessness, fatigue, brain fog, muscle tension all help in its diagnosis.

Depression: Depression One 2015 study found that brain fog is present during 85 to 94 percent of the length of depressive episodes. The same study found that brain fog is present during 39 to 44 percent of the length of remission periods.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a mental illness that develops after a traumatic event. A natural disaster, a serious accident, war, sexual violence, or serious injury can lead all to PTSD. It includes many symptoms that affect mood and thinking such as brain fog.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is one of the most common disorders of childhood. People with “hyperactive ADHD” cannot slow their brains down. Those with “inattentive ADHD” describe it as a continuous brain fog that makes concentration harder than it should be.

Chronic Fatigue Symptom: Chronic fatigue is a feeling of tiredness that persists for more than six months. It can be difficult to concentrate, think, and reason with brain fog like this.

2. Impaired sleep

Sleep deprivation disrupts the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. This leads to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and experience brain fog. At the end of the day… you need enough sleep.

Many things can cause impaired sleep including:

Irregular sleep and wake time.

Getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

Blue light exposure before bed: Night exposure to blue light from electronic devices can affect sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that the brain produces in response to darkness. Melatonin helps with sleep, and night exposure to light can block melatonin production.

Sleep apnea: a reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep.

3. Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes during pregnancy, menopause, and changes in the environment can cause brain fog. The fluctuating hormone levels that the body is trying to restore during these times can affect memory and cause the fog feeling.

Pregnancy: during pregnancy, levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen increase. This change may affect memory and cause short-term cognitive impairment.

Menopause: the drop in estrogen level during menopause can also cause brain fog. The exact effect of hormonal loss on the brain is not well understood yet. Estrogen promotes the growth and survival of neurons, the cells that send electrical impulses in the brain. These impulses serve as messages that are crucial for making the brain in a proper way.

4. Medications

Medications that may cause brain fog, impair cognitive function and impair the central nervous system. Many of these medication may be prescribed for a legitimate reason but have cognitive side effects. While most of these have been through clinical trials, that doesn’t guarantee that they will not impair cognition or that they may develop brain fog. Many of these medication have been known to enter the blood brain barrier. When this happens, it can lead to the common side effects of cognitive impairment, brain fog or other symptoms.

Common medications that cause brain fog:

Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are antianxiety drugs and include: 

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)

Statins: Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs and include: 

  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • Lovastatin (Mevacor)

Anticonvulsants: Anticonvulsants are drugs used to treat seizures and include:

  • Acetazolamide (Diamox)
  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
  • Ezogabine (Potiga)
  • Gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
  • Levetiracetam (Keppra)

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCA): TCAs are antidepressant drugs and include:

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Desipramine (Norpramin)

Opioid analgesics: Opioids, also referred to as narcotic painkillers and include:

  • Fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • Hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)

Dopamine agonists (DA): DAs are drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease and include:

  • Apomorphine (Apokyn)
  • Pramipexole (Mirapex)

Beta-blockers (BB): BB are anti-hypertensive drugs and include:

  • Atenolol (Tenormin)
  • Carvedilol (Coreg)
  • Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol)

“Z drugs”: “Z drugs”: also called nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics. They are used to treat insomnia, other sleep problems, and mild anxiety as well. They include:

  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien)

Anticholinergics: relieve symptoms of overactive bladder. They are also used to reduce episodes of urge incontinence, a sudden and strong urge to urinate. They include:

  • Darifenacin (Enablex)
  • Oxybutynin (Ditropan XL, Gelnique, Oxytrol)
  • Solifenacin (Vesicare)

First-generation antihistamines: used to prevent or treat allergy symptoms or those of the common cold. They are also used to prevent nausea, vomiting and dizziness, and to treat anxiety or insomnia. They include:

  • Brompheniramine (Dimetane)
  • Carbinoxamine (Clistin)
  • Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)

5. Medical conditions

Thyroid disorders: The thyroid gland is a gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate growth and development. When the thyroid gland is not working well, it can cause fatigue, weight changes, rapid heartbeat, and other mental symptoms. Hypothyroidism is when not enough of the thyroid hormone is being produced. Hyperthyroidism, also called Graves disease, is when the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone. Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can exhibit brain fog.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): CFS is a long-term illness with a large range of symptoms with the most common one being extreme tiredness. In CFS, brain fog is common as the person has trouble making decisions, focusing, and remembering things due to extreme fatigue.

Other medical conditions that can cause brain fog are:

6. Poor diet

Poor diet or a lack of dietary variance can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, a condition that makes people tired and weak.

This is why low levels of Vitamin B12 impair energy levels and lead to fatigue. Unhealthy diets can also contain pro-inflammatory foods that upset the body’s hormones and the brain. This causes chronic fatigue and brain fog as well. At-home tests such as Everlywell can be performed to identify food sensitivities.

7. Heavy Metal Exposure

Mercury, lead, or arsenic exposure can all cause brain fog, dizziness, and confusion.

Lead: found in paint and toys and can be accidentally ingested.

Mercury: found in old non-digital thermometers and can cause brain fog when inhaled.

Arsenic: found in contaminated water and industrial processes.

Heavy metal levels can be checked by performing a simple blood test.

Brain Fog and COVID-19

Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. The virus can not only damage one or many organs but can also cause long-term symptoms in individuals. These symptoms include memory impairment and brain fog. 

One 2021 study found that most Covid-19 survivors that have been on a ventilator experienced PTSD which increased their risk of brain fog. Also, long-term implications of Covid-19 include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which is linked to brain fog as well.

How is brain fog diagnosed?

Brain fog is a symptom and not a medical or psychological disorder. Thus, there are no ‘brain fog biomarkers’ capable of diagnosing it. But, a test called the “Subtle Cognitive Impairment test” can detect an associated neurological problem. Also, getting a blood test can help identify any hormonal problem or vitamin deficiency if there is one. This can help in finding the cause of the fog.

How is brain fog treated?

Brain fog is a symptom rather than a true disorder and it is important to find the underlying cause of the fog. Treatment is simple when the cause is known like in the case of medication side effects or vitamin deficiency. But, when the cause of brain fog is not known, finding the right treatment will be harder.

Make sleep a priority

Sleep is important for brain health. It is important to keep a consistent sleeping schedule and to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Chronic fatigue syndrome even, may be made worse from lack of sleep. Getting proper sleep and rest is important to keep the brain fog at bay.

Eat healthy foods

Proper nutrition is essential for brain health. Eating healthy and avoiding junk foods is important and helps improve your immune system. It includes eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

Supplements, herbs, and essential oils by themselves are not remedies for brain fog, they can reduce the fog feeling. They can be taken in combination with treating the root of the problem, to help the brain meet all its required nutrients.

Brain fog supplements:

  • Vitamin B (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc

All the vitamins and minerals listed above are available as supplements in pharmacies. The best supplements are those that contain natural ingredients with no additives. Having a certificate of analysis verifying third-party testing and verification is even better.

Brain fog herbs: 

Herbs are natural supplements and can be found in many forms (powder, dry, fresh). They can be used in teas, tinctures, infusions, and food seasonings. Two common herbs used are Ginkgo Biloba and lion’s mane.

Brain fog essential oils: 

Many types of essential oils can be used as well for brain fog and include:

  • Lavender oil (for sleep)
  • Frankincense oil (for concentration)
  • Lemon and other citrus scents oil (for energy)
  • Peppermint oil (for memory and concentration)

The safest and most effective oils are those that contain pure ingredients.

Vitamins and minerals, Herbs, and Essential oils can be useful but can also be dangerous if used in excess. Make sure to consult with your physician before taking any of those to treat brain fog.

Manage your stress: 

Make sure to be kind to yourself. Surround yourself with positive people, and practice healthy activities. Some activities include:

  • Meditating
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Taking baths
  • Reading
  • Learning a new skill
  • Keeping a stress ball nearby

Finding what activities lower your stress levels and doing them will help in the treatment of your brain fog.

Check your medications

If you started experiencing brain fog when you started a new medication, then the fog could be due to the medication’s side effects. Check the medications listed above. If they are known to cause memory problems, consult your physician.

Exercise:

Exercising increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Try to engage in some type of activity every day. Walking for at least 30 minutes a day or running are great alternatives. It will also help boost your mood.

How long does brain fog last?

The duration of brain fog is different for each person. The symptoms tend to come and go lasting from hours to months. In general, brain fog persists for several days to several weeks. How long brain fog lasts depends on how the underlying cause is being treated.

When should you seek medical care?

Most of the time, brain fog is manageable, and help is available to find the root cause behind brain fog. If you are experiencing forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating, make sure to pay a visit to your physician.

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