Brain Fog 101
Last updated: July 2023
I’m reading a book — one of my very favorite things to do.
I read the first sentence of a paragraph, and by the time I’m to the end of the sentence, I’ve forgotten what the first part of the sentence said, or I stop to wonder how the beginning and the end work together to create a thought I am not yet comprehending. I read the sentence over and over again until my brain grasps what’s being said, and then I move on to the next sentence.
If there are numbers or math problems involved, I’m sunk because that part of my brain which was adequate before migraine and chronic illness is now like dead weight.
Is this normal?
What I used to be able to do in record-setting fast time now takes me hours or even days. It’s one of the most frustrating parts of my migraine attacks, ranking right up there with aphasia.
Other migraineurs sometimes have a hard time reading my posts here and believe that I could possibly suffer from such tremendous difficulties myself, although I assure them I do and thankfully have had the time to compensate for it before a post is published.
What do we call our lost ability to comprehend?
Those in the chronic illness world have coined the phrase "brain fog" to describe the feeling of searching for thoughts and the difficulty we have in finding them when we know they are there… somewhere. Just as a driver strains to see cars on a foggy road, the migraineur strains and focuses to comprehend information floating about just beyond the point where we can make out what it actually is.
Brain fog ranges from mild to severe as a part of migraine for many of us who read and visit Migraine.com every day.
Is difficulty concentrating a symptom of migraine?
Migraineurs are often relieved to learn that difficulty concentrating is a frequent migraine symptom. It can play a part in any stage of a migraine attack, from prodrome all the way through postdrome. The severity of the difficulty may be more or less than the last attack or the next — it is highly variable.
Brain fog can also be a complicating factor in many migraine co-morbidities. When this is the case, difficulty concentrating can become a problem beyond the scope of a migraine attack. It may become a part of nearly every waking moment for some patients.
While brain fog or difficulty concentrating is a frequent symptom of migraine, it is important that a patient suffering from this symptom for the first time knows to contact their physician. Unfortunately, concentration difficulties can also be a symptom of many other diseases and disorders that may range from mild to life-threatening, which should be ruled out by your physician before assuming they are a part of your migraine disease.
How does it make us feel?
The frustration and discouragement that accompanies brain fog can be really hard to learn to deal with. We feel inadequate, like a failure, or that we are somehow less as people than we were before brain fog. Trying that hard to concentrate on something is exhausting, and that’s something others often will not understand because it comes easily to them. Sometimes the things we say and do make people angry at us or make them laugh at us.
Can we compensate for our brain fog?
We are not lost in the sea of brain fog. We CAN compensate for these issues. Compensation is not a fix, and it works better for non-conversational issues such as reading, writing, problem-solving, and math difficulties, but even problems with conversation can be helped. The trick for brain fog compensation is learning what works best for you and implementing the helps one by one as you are able to deal with them.
Which are you most sensitive to?