Forgetting names. Losing words. Having trouble concentrating. You may have heard the term “brain fog” to describe these issues. Brain fog is a common — and often upsetting — symptom of spondylitis.
Members of MySpondylitisTeam share worries and frustrations about their cognitive issues. “I’ve always had an excellent memory. Not anymore! I forget everything,” said one member. “I’ve been forgetting words and thought it was because I turned 50,” shared another. “My family says I’m going senile, but I know I am not. How does one explain brain fog?” asked one member.
Here’s what to know about brain fog in spondylitis, including what causes it and what experts and members have recommended for managing life with a “fuzzy head.”
In short, brain fog refers to mild cognitive impairment. It results in a whole host of cognitive issues, from forgetfulness to general mental sluggishness.
Brain fog is not specifically a medical condition, but rather a symptom. It has been connected to certain inflammatory conditions, including spondylitis. Inflammation is thought to affect the brain and prevent it from reaching a full state of alertness.
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Many people associate forgetfulness and cognitive problems with serious medical conditions like dementia, which can be scary to consider on top of a spondylitis diagnosis. However, the cause of the brain fog is usually something else. One member wrote, "I thought it was the beginning of dementia. Now I see it’s not. Spondylosis is the cause."
Not everyone experiences brain fog in the same way. Some MySpondylitisTeam members report that they forget words, like one member who wrote, “Sometimes, my words don't match what I'm thinking … Ugh! I didn't know this goes along with spondylitis.” Others find that they feel generally “fuzzy” or “out of it,” like one member who wrote that they were "having brain fog and trouble concentrating."
Forgetfulness is another common experience with brain fog. As one member reported, "My 50th birthday was last year, and we went to the Chinese buffet. My daughter set it up for me, but I thought we went somewhere else! She had to give me hints. I said that it must be brain fog, but I still felt bad."
Brain fog can have a broad range of impacts on daily life. Some MySpondylitisTeam members have said that their brain fog doesn’t just cause problems in their personal lives — it also impacts their professional lives.
As one member wrote, "My brain function has been so affected, I feel like my job is in jeopardy.” Another explained, "This week at work was particularly hard. Not only could I not find the right words, but comprehension was so difficult that my boss emailed my co-workers, wanting to know what was wrong with me." A third member said, "I have to go back and edit things I write due to spelling errors."
The cause of brain fog is not exactly known. One 2018 study found connections between chronic inflammation and cognitive dysfunction. Inflammation can also increase chronic pain and fatigue and cause sleep disturbances, all of which may contribute to cognitive fogginess.
Some MySpondylitisTeam members have found that their brain fog is connected to their medications. As one member wrote, "Using 1,200 milligrams of gabapentin a day wiped out my memory big time."
Another member linked their memory loss to Humira (adalimumab). “I thought I was just overwhelmed with pain and getting ready for my first shot of Humira,” they wrote.
Differentiating between medication- and spondylitis-related brain fog can be difficult, as noted by another member: “Will this get worse with each shot, or is it a side effect of spondylitis?” Other drugs, such as the corticosteroid prednisone, can sometimes affect cognition as well.
Some cholesterol-lowering statins used to manage spondylitis may also contribute to brain fog, but this association is disputed. An article published by the Canadian Pharmacists Journal acknowledged that people have experienced brain fog symptoms after taking statins, but researchers found no direct link between the two.
Talk to your rheumatologist for their medical advice if you experience any side effects from your medication, whether it's brain fog or a different, unexpected symptom. They will advise you on the best way of treating your spondylitis while minimizing side effects.
Managing your brain fog may help improve your mental health and overall wellness and quality of life. Different techniques are suitable for different people, but the MySpondylitisTeam community has come up with a number of unique ways to target this often debilitating symptom.
How do members of MySpondylitisTeam “lift the fog?” One member plays word and puzzle games to keep their brain sharp. “I have to use logic with all of them, so it keeps my brain going,” they said.
According to research from the University of British Columbia, consistent aerobic activity appears to enlarge the area of the brain responsible for learning and verbal memory. One member uses hiking as their go-to physical activity for managing brain fog. “After the first hour, the brain fog lifts, and pains subside,” they reported.
If you have trouble remembering appointments or other important dates, try organizing your days and weeks with diaries and schedules. Try hanging a planner or schedule in an area you frequent to help keep it top of mind. If everyone in your household knows your routine, they can help you out with reminders.
Keep regular sleeping patterns and avoid stimuli before bed to prevent sleep disturbances. This could mean turning off the TV or keeping electronics out of the bedroom, as well as avoiding harsh lights or loud noises like the radio.
One MySpondylitisTeam member swears by cannabis to control their “raging brain fog.” “The cannabis relieves most of the symptoms long enough to get physically active,” they said.
MySpondylitisTeam is the social network for people with spondylitis and their loved ones. Here, more than 65,000 members from around the world come together to ask questions, offer support and advice, and meet others who understand life with spondylitis.
Have you experienced brain fog? What are your techniques for handling this symptom? Share your experience in the comments below or by posting on MySpondylitisTeam.