Long COVID and Brain Fog

Oct 12, 2022

By Tamsin Zandstra

A symptom of Long COVID which many people are experiencing is brain fog. Though not technically a medical term, it’s widely used to describe feelings of sluggishness, confusion, difficulty focusing, a “fuzzy brain,” trouble sleeping and headaches. Some clinicians and researchers refer to brain fog as cognitive dysfunction, a term preferred by some patients to fully convey how much symptoms impact them.

Brain fog typically resolves itself after six to nine months. Yet, for some people it can be an ongoing struggle lasting around two years. Previous cognitive impairment and dementia can mean that making a full recovery from brain fog is more difficult.

There is currently no specific treatment for brain fog however there are several lifestyle changes which doctors recommend that can help reduce symptoms. These recommendations include: 

  • Quitting smoking
  • Minimizing alcohol consumption
  • Engaging in regular aerobic exercise 
  • Changing aspects of your diet such as reducing the amount of processed food and sugar you consume to improve your overall physical health
  • Taking Vitamin D supplements
  • Socializing 
  • Exercising the mind through puzzles such as sudoku and crossword puzzles
  • Pursuing activities that stimulate cognitive functions such as listening to music and meditating

There have been different hypotheses regarding what causes brain fog. COVID-19 can cause a lack of oxygen to reach the brain which can cause damage, leading to cognitive impairment similar to that of moderate brain injury. Encephalopathy, defined as “any diffuse disease of the brain that alters brain function or structure,” can also lead to brain fog as it often causes cognitive impairment and difficulties with memory and concentration. Both encephalopathy and lack of oxygen to the brain can impact its neural networks, disturbing the flow of information. Furthermore, if a patient has preexisting cognitive issues, such as mild memory impairment, COVID-19 can trigger and aggravate these issues leading to brain fog and other complications. 

If you are experiencing brain fog, it is recommended that you visit your primary care provider for an initial evaluation. 

For inquiries related to the Long COVID Initiative, please contact long_covid_initiative@brown.edu