Migraine Symptoms: Brain Fog

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 in my brain.

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 part 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.


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.

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 and difficulty concentrating is a frequent symptom of Migraine, it is important that a patient suffering 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.

Compensating for Brain Fog

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 for them. Sometimes the things we say and do make people angry at us, or make them laugh at us.

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.

Along the Migraine path I’ve learned a bit about dealing with some pretty extreme concentration problems and I look forward to sharing them with you in my next post: Migraine and Brain Fog Tips and Tricks

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

Comments

View Comments (15)
  • HollyM
    4 years ago

    Although I’ve had migraines since I was 8 or 9 yrs old, I’m just now making my Dr. aware of them because of also having 2 other diseases to deal with. One of those is endometriosis, which I have found out also causes “brain fog”. I’ve learned just to say “nevermind” when I get to a point in speaking where I can’t remember a word, phrase or subject. What really bothers me though, which I have only recently ‘acquired’ is when someone is talking to me and suddenly is seems like they’re speaking another language or just garbled sounds. It’s a bit scary; thankfully it doesn’t happen very often.

  • KNDD
    5 years ago

    While I am new to the migraines – I only started having them since I contracted lyme disease. While they have been more wide spread apart since the lyme (dating back 3 years now) when I do have them they are quite severe in pain. I have only realized they are connected to my foggy brain. I just started the research and found this site, which makes me feel I am not crazy in my feelings of the severity of pain, the following days and contributions it may have on my foggy brain feeling. I just now need to start trying to remedy the problem, sort to speak. I am huge on vitamins too, but it still doesn’t prevent them (or perhaps it may?).

  • oncern
    6 years ago

    When will your post on migraines and brain fog tips and tricks be posted? Your initial post on migraine symptoms: brain fog was really helpful and I can tell from the other posters that many migraineurs are eager for more information. Thanks for your first article on the topic.

  • joypeters
    6 years ago

    My brain fog seems to be in processing. I have to stop and think about what I hear and how to reply in English. However the main place I notice brain fog is when I am teaching in my bilingual Spanish class. My Spanish is poor to begin with and when brain fog hits I can’t process between the two languages. My students notice the difference and help as much as they can, they even go as far as using very simple words and slowing their speech down.

  • Sophiasmom
    6 years ago

    in my world, brain fog=intracranial hypertension. there have been papers written about how the headache pattern in IIHWOP (idiopathic intracranial hypertension without papilledema) is identical to that of migraine. after my journey, if you are having brain fog, you should probably have a spinal tap. there’s no other way to distinguish between migraine and IIHWOP.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    6 years ago

    Sophiasmom – Unfortunately, brain fog is a part of many different diseases and disorders and is not limited just to headache disorders and Migraine. Those with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and thyroid dysfunction for example, also suffer. Sometimes the brain fog is a part of their Migraine attacks, but sometimes they can be related to comorbid conditions. You’re very right on this one! If you suffer brain fog, it is important to rule out other causes for it that might be treatable.

    Here is some information on Migraine.com about Intracranial Hypertension: http://migraine.com/blog/migraine-comorbidities-idiopathic-intracranial-hypertension/

  • edithtuck
    7 years ago

    Over the past several months I have noticed a drag between my thoughts and my actions. I call it a drag because it’s like I’m having to drag the action that I am attempting to catch up with what my brain wants to do. It is quite frustrating, especially at work, where I seem to notice it the most. I lose a lot of time and forget how to perform the most common tasks. It like a fog and so I googles brain fog and found your article.
    My question is, when you speak of concentrations, what exactly are you speaking of? I am also a grad student and had the hardest time in my last course with simple instructions. At this point I’m getting pretty freaked out by the hold that this condition seems to have on me.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    6 years ago

    edithtuck – For some, brain fog penetrates all their thoughts. This is very common. However, sometimes patients find that they have more difficulty in certain areas. This might be what you’re experiencing. Have you spoken with your doctor about it lately?

  • artisttia
    7 years ago

    I believe you. This is what I experience. I am in the midst of an appeal to regain my disability (can’t think of word) from work. I need to know a source for migraines and brain fog. Please.

    Suzy

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    7 years ago

    Artisttia, what are you looking for specifically? You might take a look at the Migraine in America study that we just revealed last night. You can find the slides here: https://migraine.com/blog/news/view-the-results-of-the-migraine-in-america-2012-study/

  • Diane Urich
    7 years ago

    A neurologist I know says that the electroencephalograph (EEG) of the brain is just about the same pattern for a migraine as for a seizure. Many subclinical seizures can be as simple as a “word retrieval” or “brain fog” issue. Many migraine sufferers find Tegretol, a seizure control medication is helpful to prevent migraines….but are they actually simply preventing seizures that act like migraines? we have much to learn and need more research all the time.

  • Christine Abernathy Nelson
    7 years ago

    Hi David and Shelia! It’s Christine (the lady with the pool) just popping in to say hi….

  • Sarah'n John
    7 years ago

    Wow. Amazing.

  • David Shelia Urich
    7 years ago

    Isn’t science amazing! I always thought that there was a connection in migraine and seizures, both wipe you out! Love, DAD

  • Sydney Cole
    7 years ago

    This is a huge problem for me. It gets worse when the pain increases, and the problem itself has been increasing over time. I’m really looking forward to your next post. Thanks!

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