Post COVID Brain Fog: The Consistent Mystery
In the early days of the pandemic, patients with Post COVID Syndrome (PCS) reported troubles with their thinking. This came to be known as brain fog, and since then the term has become of permanent part of the PCS discussion. Yet, if you look up the word brain fog in a medical dictionary, you won’t find any information. That’s because brain fog is not a medical term and it does not have a set definition. However, if we go past the term brain fog and ask patients with PCS what specific thinking problems they have, patients describe amazingly similar troubles.
The most common complaint is trouble finding words during speech. Patients often describe feeling the word they want to say is on the tip of their tongue, but they just can’t proceed. This makes communicating very difficult, which is quite frustrating, especially when suffering a medical condition.
The next frequent problem involves short term memory. The classic story we hear from patients is that they will go into a room to find something, and not remember what they were looking for when they get there. Or they will listen to new information, such as driving directions, and not be able to retain the details.
Finally, patients have problems with multitasking. Doing even simple things at the same time are much harder with PCS. A common example is having troubles grocery shopping while having a conversation.
This pattern of thinking difficulty PCS is surprisingly consistent. It is also not rare. In fact, 45% of our patients in the COVID Activity Rehabilitation Program (CARP) report suffering from brain fog. And unfortunately, of all the symptoms we get to help patients with, thinking troubles are often one of the most stressful symptoms, because it causes problems with work and relationships.
Fortunately, we are now starting to unravel the mystery around brain fog. For example, there are now studies showing that after COVID, there can be brain structure changes, explaining the dysfunction we see. We are also making progress in how brain fog is objectively described. For example, a research study at Mayo Clinic is currently trialing a new virtual test for brain fog. This 25-minute test allows our team to identify specific areas of troubled thinking in patients with PCS. This is important because once we know the problems, we can help patients develop specific strategies to overcome their troubles. And with each test, we are contributing to a growing database that helps describe brain fog in PCS more accurately.
What should you do if you feel you have troubles with thinking after a COVID infection? First, take care of yourself. Eat well, hydrate, and get good sleep. If that doesn’t help, reach out to your treatment provider. We have found that patients that are able to get help sooner, get better faster and more completely.
Together, we can help clear out the brain fog of PCS, and shed more light on the path to better health.
Read more about managing symptoms through early care. Learn tips on talking with your health care provider about post COVID syndrome, and connect with other people in the Post-COVID Recovery & COVID-19 support group.