Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
August 31, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

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

Do you feel like you’re struggling to think clearly lately? Are your thoughts cloudy, and it’s difficult to focus on anything? You might be experiencing brain fog.

Brain fog is one of the most common medication side effects. It is characterized by difficulty in thinking clearly and concentrating. It can also make it hard for you to remember things, have conversations, or complete simple tasks.

In this article, we will discuss the medications that are most likely to cause brain fog and what you can do about it. We will also provide tips for maintaining healthy brain function despite taking medication.

Let’s get started.

What is medication fog?

Medication fog, also called drug-induced cognitive impairment, is a side effect of a particular drug or certain medications. It can cause problems with thinking, memory, and concentration.

Medication brain fog can make it difficult to:

  • remember things that happened recently
  • have conversations
  • focus on tasks
  • pay attention
  • complete tasks

Medication fog can also cause problems with short-term memory, such as chronically forgetting where you put your keys or what you were doing when you walked into a room.

Why Medication Brain Fog Happens

There are many different medications that can cause brain fog. These include:

  • antidepressants
  • anti-anxiety medications
  • blood pressure medications
  • birth control pills
  • hormone replacement therapy
  • cholesterol-lowering medications
  • some cancer treatments

Research shows that these medications work by affecting the levels of certain chemicals in your brain.

For example, antidepressants increase the levels of serotonin, while anti-anxiety medications increase the levels of Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Gaba is a neurotransmitter that functions as the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and spinal cord, which means that it slows down the nervous system. This can lead to feelings of drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty thinking clearly.

The problem is that these medications don’t just affect the areas of your brain that they’re supposed to. They can also have an impact on other parts of your brain, which can lead to side effects like brain fog.

Medication Side Effects: Types of Drugs that Can Affect Cognitive Function

There are several types of drugs that have brain fog as one of the side effects. These include:

Antianxiety Drugs

Anxiety is a common condition that can have a profound impact on your life. If you’re struggling with anxiety, you might be given prescription drugs for anxiety.

Anti-anxiety medications, such as Benzos and Valium, work to relieve the symptoms of anxiety, including panic attacks and severe fear and worry.

Benzodiazepines are the most conventional anti-anxiety medications—a class of drugs used to manage anxiety and promote sleep. They work by depressing the central nervous system, making you feel calmer.

Valium is one of the most popular benzodiazepines. It can be effective in treating anxiety, but it can also cause adverse effects like brain fog, drowsiness, and impaired thinking.

Another type of anti-anxiety medication is buspirone. It’s often used as an alternative to benzodiazepines because it doesn’t have the same risks for dependence and addiction.

However, research suggests that buspirone can also cause side effects like brain fog, drowsiness, and impaired thinking. If you’re taking this medication, it’s important to be aware of the potential adverse effects.

Antidepressants

Depression is a serious medical condition that can have a profound impact on your life. If you’re struggling with depression, you might be prescribed medications for depression.

Antidepressants are medications that are used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. They work by increasing the levels of serotonin in your brain.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant that’s often a prescription drug for depression. Common SSRIs include Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil.

While these medications can be effective in treating depression, research suggests that they can also cause side effects like brain fog, forgetfulness, and drowsiness.

If you’re taking an SSRI, it’s essential to be aware of the potential side effects. Make sure to report adverse events to your doctor, especially if you’re taking other medicines, as there may be drug interactions that you need to know.

Blood Pressure Medications

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common condition that can lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease and stroke. Medications are often used to treat high blood pressure.

There are many different types of medications that can be used to treat hypertension, including diuretics, beta-blockers, and Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.

Diuretics are medications that help to remove excess water and salt from your body. They work by increasing the amount of urine your kidneys produce.

Beta-blockers are medications that block the action of adrenaline, which can help to lower blood pressure.

ACE inhibitors are medications that prevent the production of a substance that narrows your blood vessels.

While these medications can be effective in treating hypertension, research shows that they can also cause side effects like brain fog and dizziness, especially in elderly patients.

If you’re taking any of these medications, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects and take extra caution as much as possible, especially if they may become life-threatening.

Cholesterol-Lowering Medications

Cholesterol is a type of fat that’s found in your blood. High levels of cholesterol can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Medications are often used to lower cholesterol levels.

Statins are the most common type of cholesterol-lowering medication. They work by blocking the liver’s ability to produce cholesterol.

Common statins include Lipitor, Zocor, and Crestor. While these medications can be effective in lowering cholesterol levels, studies suggest that they can also cause side effects like brain fog, memory loss, and confusion.

If you’re taking statin medication, it’s essential to be aware of the potential side effects. If you’re experiencing any unpleasant medication side effects, consult health care professionals, especially for any possible drug interaction.

Antiseizure Drugs

Seizures are sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain. They can cause convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. Medications are often used to treat seizures.

Antiseizure medications work by stabilizing electrical activity in the brain. Common anti seizure medications include Phenytoin, Carbamazepine, and Valproic acid.

While these medications can be effective in treating seizures, studies show that they can also cause side effects like brain fog and drowsiness.

If you’re taking anti seizure medication, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects. If you’re experiencing any side effects that are hard to tolerate, talk to your doctor.

Narcotic Painkillers

Narcotic painkillers are medications that are used to relieve moderate to severe pain. They work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which reduces the perception of pain.

Common narcotic painkillers include Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and Morphine. While these medications can be effective in relieving pain, studies suggest that they can also cause side effects like brain fog, drowsiness, and constipation.

If you’re taking narcotic painkillers, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects. If you’re experiencing any side effects that are beyond your tolerance level, talk to your doctor.

Sleeping Aids

Sleeping aids are over-the-counter medications that are used to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. They work by slowing down the activity of the brain and nervous system.

Common sleeping aids include Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. While these medications can be effective in treating insomnia, studies suggest that they can also cause side effects like brain fog, dizziness, and headache.

If you’re taking a sleeping aid, make sure it is from reputable drug companies, and make it a habit to check the drug’s label—it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects.

If you’re experiencing any side effects that are making it difficult for you to function during the day, talk to your doctor.

Incontinence Drugs

Incontinence is a condition that causes people to leak urine. Medications are often used to treat incontinence.

Common incontinence medications include Ditropan, Oxybutynin, and Tolterodine. While these medications can be effective in treating incontinence, studies suggest that they can also cause side effects like brain fog, dry mouth, and constipation.

When taking incontinence medication, be mindful of potential side effects, especially if they may become life-threatening. If you’re having trouble functioning during the day as a result of any serious adverse events, see your doctor.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are often over-the-counter medicines that are used to treat allergies. They work by preventing histamine (a substance that is released during allergic reactions) from binding to receptors in the body.

Common antihistamines include Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec. While these medications can be effective in treating allergies, studies show that they can also cause side effects like brain fog, drowsiness, dry mouth, and forgetfulness.

Adverse events or effects from antihistamines are not uncommon. If you feel like the side effects are too much to handle, consult with your doctor as soon as possible.

Parkinson’s Drugs

Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects the nervous system, and medications are often used to treat it.

Common Parkinson’s medications include Levodopa, Carbidopa, and Amantadine. While these medications can be effective in treating Parkinson’s disease, research suggests that they can also cause side effects like brain fog, drowsiness, and nausea.

Some medications for Parkinson’s disease may have bothersome adverse effects. If these make it challenging to do your daily activities, talk to your doctor about modifying the dosage or switching medications.

How do you stop brain fog from medications?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. If you’re experiencing brain fog as a result of taking medication, talk to your doctor. They may be able to adjust the dosage or switch you to a different medication.

We also highly recommend following these tips for maintaining healthy brain function despite taking medication:

Get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is crucial for brain health whether or not you’re taking medication. Most adults need between seven and eight hours of quality sleep per night.

If you’re having trouble sleeping or staying asleep, there are steps you can take to optimize your sleeping patterns:

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule
  • Keep a cool, comfortable environment in your bedroom
  • Reduce noise and light exposure in the evening
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime

Maintain a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet is also essential for brain health regardless of whether or not you’re taking medication.

On the other hand, an unhealthy diet will aggravate any health condition you are trying to manage. Thanks to poor nutrition.

Some types of food that are especially beneficial for brain health include:

  • omega-three fatty acids (found in salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed)
  • antioxidants (found in blueberries, dark chocolate, and green tea)
  • B vitamins (found in whole grains, dark leafy greens, and eggs)

So, make sure to include these brain-boosting foods in your meals daily.

Exercise regularly

Exercise has numerous benefits for brain health, even if you’re taking medication. The lack thereof will aggravate even more symptoms of bad health. 

Some of the ways exercise can improve brain function include:

  • increasing blood flow to the brain
  • releasing endorphins (which have mood-boosting effects)
  • improving sleep quality

So, aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. This could include activities like walking, jogging, biking, or swimming.

Train your brain regularly.

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

There are many ways to do this, but some of the best exercises for brain health include:

  • playing Sudoku or crossword puzzles
  • learning a new language or instrument
  • taking up a new hobby
  • learning a new language.

So, make sure to give your brain a workout on a regular basis.

Manage your stress levels

Stress can take a toll on your brain health, especially if you’re trying to manage a health condition and taking medications.

That’s why it’s crucial to find ways to manage your stress levels. Some of the best ways to do this include:

  • exercising regularly
  • meditating or doing yoga
  • spending time in nature
  • doing things you enjoy
  • journaling

Keep underlying health conditions under control.

If you have any underlying health conditions, it’s important to work with your doctor to keep them under control. This is especially true if the condition affects your brain or nervous system.

Some common examples of conditions that can impact brain function include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • migraines
  • diabetes
  • autoimmune diseases

If you have any of these conditions, make sure to follow your treatment plan and see your doctor regularly. This will help you keep your condition under control and minimize any impact on your brain function.

The Bottom Line

Brain fog can be a side effect of taking medications, but there are things you can do to help minimize its impact.

If you’re experiencing brain fog, talk to your doctor about adjusting your dosage or switching medications.

It is also important to take note that reporting adverse events involving your medication will help your doctor figure out the best alternative treatment for you.

You can also try lifestyle changes like refraining from drinking alcohol, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and training your brain regularly.

Additionally, make sure to keep any underlying health conditions under control.

By following these tips, you can help reduce the impact of medication side effects on your brain function and improve your overall quality of life.

If you want to learn more about achieving better mental clarity and clearing brain fog, check out these educational resources we compiled on our blog

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