“Of the many possible post-COVID symptoms, brain fog is “by far one of the most disabling and destructive”, writes The Atlantic. It also describes brain fog as one the “most misunderstood”.
It has been compared to things like “mental fatigue”, anxiety and depression and is often dismissed as a temporary symptom that should go away in a few weeks. But many patients experiencing brain fog suffer debilitating and persistent symptoms for weeks – sometimes even months.
So, what is Post-COVID brain fog like, and how can it be managed?
What is Post-COVID?
Post-COVID, also known as Long COVID or Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC), is a wide range of lingering symptoms that occur within a few weeks of infection from COVID-19.
Post-COVID conditions can persist for several weeks and affect one’s ability to go about their day-to-day life. Some of the most common post-COVID symptoms include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Post-Exertional Malaise or exhaustion after performing basic activities
- Body pain
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Dizziness, lightheadedness and nausea
- Changes in sense of taste or smell
- Stomach pains, diarrhea and other GI issues
- Brain fog
Post-COVID is typically diagnosed if the patient has been experiencing the aforementioned symptoms for more than four weeks after the initial infection.
What is brain fog?
Brain fog, also called “cognitive impairment” or “cognitive dysfunction”, is a condition that primarily affects executive function. This includes mental skills that help us stay focused, retain and organize information and filter out distractions. When these abilities are impaired – as seen in people with brain fog – we have great difficulty concentrating, making plans, multitasking and even managing our frustration and modulating our emotions.
Studies found that up to 30% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 reported brain fog three months after getting infected. A staggering 65 to 80% of people who suffer from long-haul COVID experience brain fog. And researchers find that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been hospitalized or experienced minimal symptoms when you got sick with COVID-19 or whether you’re young or old.
In short, brain fog is one of the most common symptoms of Post-COVID and can happen to virtually anyone.
What causes brain fog?
COVID-19 brain fog is believed to be caused by neuroinflammation, or inflammation of the brain or spinal cord. For some people, particularly long-haulers, the COVID-19 virus makes their bodies go into a hyper-inflammatory state. When this happens, inflammatory chemicals travel from the lungs to the brain.
Here, the chemicals affect cells called “microglia”, which maintain our neural networks by purging unwanted debris. With inflamed microglia, certain regions of the brain like the hippocampus suffer, producing fewer neurons or becoming unable to maintain the insulation that helps electrical signals travel from neuron to neuron.
But COVID-19 isn’t the only thing that can cause brain fog. COVID-19 brain fog is said to share many similarities with the kind of cognitive difficulties experienced by people who have had a traumatic brain injury.
What does brain fog feel like?
Many patients describe Post-COVID brain fog as:
- Difficulty concentrating, even on simple, everyday tasks
- Memory problems like short-term memory loss
- Forgetting words, recent events or plans
- An inability to start and follow through on tasks
- Becoming easily distracted and unable to hold focus
- Problems with physical coordination
- Neurologic symptoms like numbness, tingling and weakness
- Fatigue and light-headedness
Due to the severity and persistence of their cognitive difficulties, many people who suffer from brain fog often develop depression and anxiety as well. This comes with the feeling that they may never get back to “normal” and accomplish the things they used to be able to.
How to manage Post-COVID brain fog
There is currently no cure for brain fog, but there are several steps and rehabilitation strategies that can alleviate the symptoms and help patients take care of their brain health.
Conserve your energy
This doesn’t just apply to physical energy – pacing yourself throughout the day also applies to your mental energy. Try not to overload yourself with complicated tasks, readings and activities. Take frequent breaks and shorten the amount of time you usually give yourself to work or study.
Stay physically active
Exercise is good for the brain. It has been found to boost memory, problem-solving and critical thinking; improve mood and even promote the creation of new brain cells.
For people suffering from Post-COVID conditions, it is advisable to start small and go for gentle exercises such as slow walks, stretching, yoga and tai chi. Try to avoid overexerting yourself or participating in fast-paced, high-impact activities, especially if you experience Post-Exertional Malaise.
Maintain a healthy diet
A healthy, balanced diet promotes brain function. Make sure to eat well and avoid highly processed foods and foods that are high in refined sugars. The latter has been found to impair brain function and have a negative effect on mood disorders.
Here are some of the best brain-boosting foods:
- Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi and kombucha
- Dark chocolate
- Leafy greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard
- Olive oil
- Fish like salmon, herring and tuna
- Spices like turmeric, ginger and cinnamon
And don’t forget to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!
Get adequate sleep
Quality sleep is essential to improving cognitive function. Neurologists often describe sleep as a housekeeping exercise for the brain. When we go to sleep, many parts of our brain stay active – purging toxins, repairing cells and replenishing our energy stores while we snooze.
Post-COVID brain fog treatment with RT Medical
RT Medical is a virtual clinic that provides support to patients facing Post-COVID conditions, ranging from chronic fatigue to brain fog. We offer personalized care plans and an interdisciplinary approach, tailored to each patient’s unique needs.
When you sign up for an RT Medical Post-COVID recovery program, you get:
- A comprehensive health assessment with our healthcare providers
- Referrals to necessary diagnostic tests and specialist doctors
- Drug prescriptions
- A customized healthcare plan with practical tips and activities for managing your symptoms
- Remote care that can be scheduled to meet your availability
Post-COVID brain fog is a very real condition that results in cognitive difficulties that affect one’s ability to keep up with the demands of day-to-day life.
Although the cause of brain fog is still being studied, we do know that there are ways to treat it. Here at RT Medical, we specialize in providing treatment for post-COVID brain fog and other Long COVID-related conditions.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of brain fog, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help. We understand how debilitating this condition can be and are here to support you through your recovery.
Post-COVID brain fog treatment FAQs
How can you avoid Post-COVID brain fog?
Post-COVID brain fog can be avoided by taking the necessary steps and precautions to avoid getting infected with COVID-19. That means social distancing, masking up in crowded places and getting vaccinated.
The most important thing to know about Post-COVID brain fog is that it doesn’t choose who it affects. Whether you experienced mild or severe COVID-19 symptoms, you could be susceptible to the long-term effects of Post-COVID conditions.
Is there a cure for brain fog?
There is currently no quick and easy cure for brain fog. However, there are many ways to manage symptoms and improve brain function, including pacing oneself, maintaining a healthy diet, getting adequate rest and engaging in light physical activity.
How long does brain fog last?
According to one study, brain fog can linger for months. The average time it takes for people to recover from Long COVID and cognitive symptoms is about 14 months. However, cognitive symptoms do improve gradually within the first four to six months.