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 (39)
  • Janet21
    4 days ago

    I know this horrible feeling knowing what you want to say and not finding the words. Such a frustrating feeling. Mine comes and goes, I’m retired now so I don’t have to worry to much about my bouts but when I did work and had to give presentations the feeling was embarrassing and debilitating. I feel for anyone affected by this very real symptom of RA.

  • Dobe
    2 weeks ago

    I know exactly what your talking about this brain fog. I’ve been experiencing it for a few months thinking I was losing my mind but after seeing this article. I believe it related with my RA and my medication Xaljanzs. It’s scarey!!! I’m hoping to ask my dr. to put me on something else to see if that helps. I’m frustrating everyone around me and myself with being repetitive because of forgetfulness. I’m so glad I found this article…..sent it to my daughter so she’ll under I’m not crazy.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Hey @dobe! I am so happy you found my article helpful and I really glad you are going to speak to your doctor about your symptoms.

    As I see it, doctors will try to help but we our own best advocates. I hope all the best with your conversation.

    Thanks for commenting on my article! ~Monica

  • Dobe
    2 weeks ago

    I know exactly what your talking about this brain fog. I’ve been experiencing it for a few months thinking I was losing my mind but after seeing this article I believe it related with my RA and my medication Xaljanzs. It’s scarey!!! I’m hoping to ask my dr. to put me on something else to see if that helps. I’m frustrating everyone around me and myself with being repetitive because of forgetfulness. I’m so glad I found this article…..sent it to my daughter so she’ll under I’m not crazy.

  • Jakesnanna
    3 weeks ago

    This has been happening to me for a few years, my Dr’s just dismiss when I feel like I am going crazy! I know what I want to say, but there is just no word…I can describe it, but the word just doesn’t come. I feel so sad for everyone with this problem. Thank you for the article because I always thought something was really wrong with me. Prayers to all.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Heys @jakesnanna! Thanks so much for sharing on my article. I am glad you liked it and found it helpful.

    I know exactly what you mean trying to find the right words but it just feels like they disappear.

    Have you spoken to a primary care physician? I think they are often able to look at the big picture than focusing on symptoms one at a time.

    Hugs, Monica

  • Dawn marie
    3 weeks ago

    I suffer from that quite abit. I have been to college twice, graduated with a good gpa, but now to be employed I feel I need retrained…ugh.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Hey @dawn-marie! Thanks for sharing on my article.

    I understand what you mean. When I was still working in a clinic there were times when things I have been doing for years just felt brand new. It was scary and frustrating!!

    I hope you’re doing well today! ~Monica

  • Millzy
    3 weeks ago

    I have bouts of brain fog that scare the crap out of me. It is not uncommon for me to be driving then out of the blue I don’t know where I am or where I’m going. There have been times I couldn’t remember my age. This goes beyond the normal “I can’t find my keys”. I’ve talked to my spouse and doctor about it, but it get’s dismissed. I hear it’s normal, it happens to everyone or that happens to me all the time. Yes it does, on occasion. But when it happens daily and scares the crap out of you, that isn’t normal.

  • starscream
    3 weeks ago

    My dr didn’t help with brain fog but my pharmacist went through pain meds with me and suggested ibuprofin only and claritin (if it says not to drive I avoid taking it because I can’t think either), and I stayed on hydroxochloroquine. This improved things but not enough. I also got vitamin recommendations from a nurse friend who has lupus. I added D3 Mg and B Complex to my daily vitamins. And I sleep, sometimes during the day. This has helped alot. My job is flex time so I can sleep when needed but must be smart when working. I can still get intense brain fog and fatigue but I treat it like a flare and take a prednisolone 6 pack to clear it when needed to be ready for an important event.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Hey @starscream! So glad you found some things that helped with your symptoms, especially the steroid! I have found that my Prednisone contributes to the brain fog but it helps with flares so I continue to take it.

    I need to keep track of the pain medications I take to see if they also make the fog worse. I know they can affect mentality so I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Thanks for commenting on my article! ~Monica

  • jan curtice
    4 weeks ago

    Brain fog is enough to drive anyone crazy. Mine is worse when my fibromyalgia is acting up along with the RA or when I have a migraine. Stress makes it worse. Life goes on and I’ve had to learn to cope with this part of my reality, too. Soooo … scattered around my house, I have white boards posted. I jot down what I want or need while I remember. Writing on the mirror with a dry erase marker also works. I carry a notepad with me at all times … it is my “memory bank”. On days when the fog is particularly heavy, I take close my eyes, take deep breaths and say out loud what it is I want to remember several times. Breath in … “get the ” … breathe out … “phone”. The repeated verbalization (hearing) combined with the calming of my mind helps to put the thought into a more retentive part of my mind. And finally, in a pinch, I write things down on my hands/arms. Best notepads, ever. Hope some of my fog survival tips help “clear the clouds” for some of you.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Hey Jan! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I completely agree that stress and pain play a role in my brain fog.

    I am personally a fan of the Stickie-Note and have them plastered everywhere. I have a couple of note apps on my phone to quickly jot down errands, etc.

    We have to make it easier on ourselves otherwise, like you said, everythings gets more chaotic!

    Thanks for commenting on my article! ~Monica

  • jwelch
    4 weeks ago

    The brain is an organ, NOT a muscle.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing your feedback, @jwelch! The brain is an organ but I was coming at it from the perspective that like muscles in the body, the brain can “atrophy” from non-use. I should have been more clear when writing that portion. Thanks for bring it to my attention.

    ~Monica

  • sandymm
    4 weeks ago

    Thank you for this article. I noticed the brain fog when I started taking Methotrexate. I can remember first names but the last names of people I have known forever just do not come. I just say, “well, wait until I can process this and then I can say it.” At first it was really scary and at my age (80) the first one thinks of is dementia or worse. Then I just decided to roll with it and if I am trying to say a word and it doesn’t come, I just say, “it’s the pills. Bear with me.”. It is a maddening thing to contend with but I have found if I am honest with everyone, no one seems to care and are so patient. An article like this helps us know we are not alone!!

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Hey @sandymm! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I am really happy you liked my article.

    I used to try to hide my brain fog, even from my friends, but as you said, they are really supportive. If I start to struggle with a sentence, for example, they immediately finish it for me.

    Thanks! ~Monica

  • VickyD
    4 weeks ago

    I’m so glad to know I’m not losing my mind completely. This has been getting worse for me for about 4 years. I have been so worried about it being Alzheimer’s. I find I have lost all kinds of words that used to be in my vocabulary, at times I also just have to describe what I’m trying to say. Thank you for this article!

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Hey @vickyd! Thanks so much for sharing. I am sorry you’re also dealing with brain fog but please know that what you’re feeling is true and valid.

    I am so happy you found my article relatable!! All the best, Monica

  • Amy Borel
    1 month ago

    Hi Monica,
    Thanks for this article. I can definitely relate. For me, it’s difficult to say if the reason for the fog is RD meds, pain meds, fatigue, or pain. I do know, however, that sometimes when I talk, it’s more difficult to find my words and I think a bit slower than I usually do.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    Hey @amyborel! Thanks for commenting on my article! I am glad you liked it.

    I have the same questions as you. Wouldn’t it make it so much easier if we knew the cause of the brain fog?

    All the best, Monica

  • markmattingly
    1 month 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

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 month ago

    Hey @markmattingly!! Thanks so much for commenting on my article!! I do the exact same thing (minus the dizzy thing because just turning around makes me a bit nauseous!)

    When I’m in a bad flare I write down my actions just in case I forget halfway there. To people who don’t know it sounds silly but it’s completely necessary. All the best, Monica

  • Norreen Clark
    1 month 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 month 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
    1 month 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 month 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
    1 month 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
    9 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
    1 month 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
    9 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
    9 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
    9 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
    9 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
    9 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
    9 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
    9 months ago

    Thank you, Richard! Much appreciated 🙂

  • Richard Faust moderator
    9 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
    9 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!!

  • Poll