All About the Brain Fog, All Trouble

“What the h*ll are string beans?” I tilted my head at my friend.

“You know, like green beans”

I just shook my head. “You’re gonna have to write it down for me because I have NO idea what you’re saying right now.”

For me, this was brain fog at its worst. Of course, I knew what string beans were but at that specific moment in time, my friend could have been speaking in a foreign language.

Brain fog: Not a “valid” symptom?

I can’t go to my physician and say “I can’t think straight” to which he responds “Oh yes, that’s a side effect of XYZ medication.” Brain fog is not a side effect of medications, apparently, it’s not even considered a symptom at all! It’s real, though, very real. Add extra pain, fatigue and, forget about it, I won’t remember my pets’ names. Though, I did come dangerously close to forgetting my own a few times.

There was a period after school (granted, this was during the time my RA was least controlled) where I couldn’t read, I couldn’t understand anything and I couldn’t speak to anyone older than five. I honestly thought I was getting dumber and it was scary. I tried Sudoku, I tried crosswords, I tried brain teasers and nothing helped (I used to love those logic math problems – but I had no hope of figuring those out).

One day, I realized, “wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense…Loads of people don’t go onto graduate degrees, many don’t even go to college and they don’t lose their mental acuity. This isn’t normal.”

I, of course, ran to my rheumatologist and yelped “help!”. It was one of the few times he couldn’t; the weird film I had over my largest muscle wouldn’t disappear until my Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms were better controlled.

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t call in sick due to “not remembering how to form a sentence.” I still had to work, present myself, and talk to people.

What was I going to do about this brain fog thing? Big ticket activities like crosswords and logic problems were not helpful.

I had to start small

I read books I already read before. I wrote in a journal about everything and nothing. I expanded my vocabulary. I chose a word, any word, and listed as many synonyms as I could.

I was surprised by how much this helped me. These activities focused my mind so there wasn’t so much fluff and they worked it just like any other muscle.

It reminded me strongly of going to physical therapy. I had to work my way back to the larger more difficult exercises by doing the smaller ones first.

A little help

Sure, I couldn’t control my brain fog but I could help my noggin (I really wanted to use this word in a sentence before the end of the article!!) out of the dark abyss. After all, the brain is a muscle, a very important one that controls the entire body and just like any other part it’s important to treat it well.

Do you suffer from brain fog? How do you combat it? Let me know in the comments!!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (17)
  • markmattingly
    5 hours ago

    I find myself walking into rooms to get or do something. Most the times I end up spinning around in circles. Scanning up ad down trying to remember why I went there. I can’t control it. I just laugh it off. If my boyfriend asks what I’m doing.
    (He knows…lol)
    So I hold my arms out and say just spinning to see how dizzy I get. Lol

  • Norreen Clark
    2 days ago

    I don’t get brain thought what I get is I just can’t do anything I feel wiped out completely drained happens every winter

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 day ago

    I am so sorry @norreen!! You are not alone. A lot of our community members feel that same drain during the winter.

    I don’t know if you have seen this article from Rick, another contributor on the site. He speaks very viciously of winter: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/i-hate-winter/

    In this article, Nan talks about her ways of staying warm in the cold Vermont wind chill that really affects: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/warm-as-toast/

    I personally dislike the colder months as well. They are a major battery drain and it doesn’t help the sun is only out for a few hours!

    Thanks for commenting on my article!! ~Monica

  • karenb54
    3 days ago

    Oh my gosh, thank you for this article. I did not know that brain fog was a thing. I could not for the life of me, figure out why I couldn’t remember my cat’s name (had her 12 years), my nephews’ names (one is 21and one is 19). Now it makes sense. There are so many times I think I’m losing my mind. Thank you, thank you for articles like this, they help tremendously.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 day ago

    Hey @karenb54!! Thanks so much for your lovely comment on my article.

    I am glad you find it and this community helpful. I know how scary the fog can be especially when you don’t know what it is. It got so bad at one point I just went to my rheumatologist and said there was a problem.

    As Richard said, the brain fog should lessen with better RA management, theoretically. Do you feel like your condition is under control? If not, it is worth another conversation with your health care team!

    ~Monica

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 days ago

    Glad you found the article helpful Karen. Yes, brain fog is very real and, unfortunately, not well understood, so usually not directly treated. The hope is basically that as treatments get the RA under control, the brain fog will get better as well. Of course, this doesn’t really work if the problem is related to a treatment side effect, as can be the case, such as with methotrexate. This article from our contributor Andrew looks at some of the scientific details of the impact of RA on mental functioning: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/just-head-impact-ra-mental-functioning/. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • cindyhall45
    8 months ago

    I have “brain fog” but to me it’s a condition where I can see the object or word in my mind but can’t think of the name for it. For instance I can be in full conversation and want to say “the man was on a roller coaster” but I can’t say the word roller coaster, I can see the roller coasin my mind and I have to say something like, “you know the thing that goes around at the fair with all the people on it and it’s a circle. I hear you saying you forget your own name or what a string bean is, I just cannot get my mouth to communicate what my brain is seeing ..?this scares the crud out of me because it makes me think I developing alzheimers or Huntington chorea.

  • PennyDean1960
    3 days ago

    CindyHall45
    I don’t have RA, thank God, but I have similar experience with brain fog from fibromyalgia and I think my CKD contributes too.
    I have done the exact thing in that I can describe in great detail the word or item that I cannot name. Fortunately my husband & friends are kind & patient.
    It’s so embarrassing though, in front of strangers- like I have felt like an idiot more than once ordering at a restaurant.
    I am trying adult coloring, counted cross-stitch and legos to try to rebuild concentration tracts in hopes that will help with the fog.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    8 months ago

    I get that too sometimes but no matter which way this little (not so little) monster rears its head there is some sort of disconnect!

    Thank you so much for sharing, cindyhall45!! ~Monica

  • rockcandi
    8 months ago

    I suffer from brain fog often, caused by JRA and Lupus, but I also believe a few of my meds have contributed. I also know that when anxiety is running high in my mind, which is very often, I have trouble concentrating and thinking straight. The biggest thing that I believe has helped me was an app I used to have on my phone, similar to Lumosity except it’s free. I wish I could swim through this brain fog to remember the name of it so I could let you know. It has several different games that make you think on your toes, including some math games. I know you said things like that didn’t help before but sometimes what doesn’t (or does) work for us at one point in time does (or doesn’t) work for us at others.

  • misspat
    8 months ago

    This is an on-time article. Thank you for making me know i’m not alone. This is what ended my career

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    8 months ago

    Thank you for commenting, misspat! I am so sorry…Please know you can reach out any time. I worry sometimes that this brain fog might stop me from pursuing my career of choice (vet med). If I can’t even remember my pet’s names how do I remember everything about the dog??

    ~Monica

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    8 months ago

    I do at various times but mostly on Monday. Why monday? Well I take MTX on Sunday evening. In fact my brain is pretty much foggy all day Monday. How do I combat it? First, I excercise my brain, just as you do: I write, read complex items and I take risks. Second, I talk to Sheryl. We have been married almsot 41 years and it is still a mental excercise to understand her logic. Hopefully I never will :).

  • Richard Faust moderator
    8 months ago

    Hey Rick, the brain fog is exactly why Kelly Mack used to take methotrexate (she is on a different treatment now) on Friday night – so that she would have the weekend to get over it. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    8 months ago

    Thank you, Richard! Much appreciated 🙂

  • Richard Faust moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi Monica. Just posted this information on the Facebook page and thought it might be useful here also. There is research that the high doses of methotrexate used in cancer treatment are associated with impaired mental functioning: https://www.sciencedaily.com/rel…/2016/06/160606200106.htm. This is certainly an area that seems ripe for research for those on the smaller RA doses (although difficult to test – tough to quantify brain functioning). Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    8 months ago

    Thank you both!! I never even thought about whether the MTX affected brain fog or not…I better look into it! Thank you!!

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