Common causes of brain fog

By Joel Callahan Jr., M.D.

Pardee Neurology Associates 

Pardee UNC Health Care


Do you ever have days where you can’t find your keys, forgot you scheduled an appointment or can’t remember a neighbor’s name? If so, you may be experiencing “brain fog.” While it’s not a medical condition itself, brain fog describes a set of symptoms that can be related to other health issues.  

Brain fog symptoms include confusion, trouble concentrating, difficulty thinking, forgetfulness and short-term memory loss.

What causes brain fog?

There are a number of possible causes of brain fog, including pregnancy, certain medications (both over-the-counter and prescribed), cancer treatment, diabetes, thyroid conditions, migraines, arthritis, dehydration, menopause, multiple sclerosis (MS), chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, lupus and Alzheimer’s disease.  

It can also be caused by lifestyle factors, like not getting enough sleep, exercise or nutritious foods.

See your health care provider if you frequently experience brain fog so you can determine what’s causing it.


Brain fog and COVID-19

Brain fog has been in the news lately because of its connection to COVID-19. Researchers are studying lingering COVID-19 symptoms – including brain fog – in people who have recovered from infection.

Scientists are still trying to determine why COVID-19 can lead to lingering brain fog. One theory is that the cells responsible for fighting infection end up in unusual places, like the brain. More research is needed to determine exactly why COVID-19 can lead to longer-term brain fog.


Brain fog diagnosis

There’s no one test to diagnose brain fog. Instead, your provider will assess your overall health, diet, current medications and supplements, mental health, and physical activity. If you have other unusual or troubling symptoms, mention these since they can help narrow down the root cause of brain fog.

Your provider can use a blood test to check for inflammatory diseases, nutritional deficiencies, food allergies, abnormal blood sugar levels, and poor thyroid, liver or kidney function.


Brain fog treatment

Treatment for brain fog depends on what’s causing it. First, see your primary care provider to discuss your symptoms. They may refer you to a specialist, change your medications or recommend lifestyle changes.

Here are a few lifestyle changes you can make to support your brain health in general.

  • Get the right amount of sleep. Sleeping too much or too little can lead to brain fog. Aim to get seven to nine hours per night. To get the best night’s sleep, go to bed and wake up around the same time each day (even on the weekends), have a calming nighttime routine (like reading a book or stretching) and avoid electronic devices an hour before bedtime. Sleep in a cool, dark and quiet room.
  • Exercise regularly. Lack of physical activity can leave you feeling sluggish and tired. Exercise can not only help boost your energy, but it can also help you deal with stress and anxiety, which can lead to brain fog.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eat a well-balanced diet of vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, fruits and whole grains. A vitamin B-12 deficiency and food allergies/sensitivities can lead to brain fog, so ask your health care provider if you should get tested.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. If you drink, have no more than an equivalent of two 6-ounce glasses of red wine per day if you’re a man or one glass per day if you’re a woman.
  • Take care of your mental health. Chronic stress can lead to mental fatigue, depression, high blood pressure and poor immune system functioning. Whenever possible, take breaks from work and make time for activities you enjoy. Meditation, yoga, journaling and breathing exercises can also help.
  • Stimulate your mind. Do puzzles or brain teasers, read, take a course, paint, draw or solve math problems. These activities help support healthy brain function.
  • Socialize. Having strong social ties supports brain health. While it’s hard to get together in groups right now, you can still interact with loved ones through phone and video calls or socially distanced visits in small groups.

See your primary care provider if you have questions or concerns about your health. To find a provider near you, visit

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