Lupus and brain fog
People with lupus can have cognitive symptoms, like having a hard time thinking clearly or remembering things. This is also called “brain fog” or “lupus fog,” and it often comes and goes over time. In some people, lupus fog can be present for many years. Lupus fog is common: 70-80 percent of people with lupus experience lupus fog at some point during their lives.
Lupus fog can be frustrating — but the good news is that there are ways to deal with your symptoms so you can still do the things that are important to you.
What are the symptoms of lupus fog?
Everyone is different, but common symptoms include:
- Not being able to think clearly
- Memory problems
- Confusion and trouble concentrating
- Having a hard time multitasking
- Having a hard time finding the right word
- Needing to read things multiple times or not being able to keep up with a conversation
- Taking a long time to solve problems or make plans
Experts are still learning about lupus fog symptoms. Watch this video to learn more about lupus fog.
What causes lupus fog?
Experts aren’t always sure what causes lupus fog — and there may be more than one cause.
Sometimes, lupus fog is caused by physical problems, like not getting enough sleep or being in a lot of pain. Lupus fog can also happen because of problems with the nervous system. Learn more about how lupus can affect the nervous system.
It’s important to work with your doctor to rule out physical causes of lupus fog. Your doctor may also recommend tests (sometimes a brain image) to explain why you have lupus fog. There are different tests to check on your cognition and some of these tests can be done using a computer or another electronic device. Other tests can be done with a specialized doctor called a neuropsychologist who will look at different functions of your cognition (like memory, learning ability and others).
Remember: even if doctors can’t find a physical cause, lupus fog isn’t “all in your head,” and there are steps you can take to manage it.
There aren’t any medicines that treat lupus fog specifically. But many people find that their lupus fog is worse during flares — so treatments that help to prevent or treat lupus flares may also help with lupus fog. Since lupus fog is sometimes related to other medical conditions (like pain, sleep problems, depression and others) your doctor will help you to address all of these issues. Your doctor can help you find a treatment plan that works for you. Learn more about medicines to treat lupus.
How can I cope with lupus fog?
Lupus fog can make everyday life challenging — but there’s a lot you can do to manage lupus fog in your daily life. Try these strategies:
- Make a plan and write it down. Use your phone or a pen and paper to record things like to-do lists, where you need to go, who you have to meet, and questions you want to ask.
- Use visual cues to trigger your memory. For example, you could leave your keys on the table to remind yourself that you need to run an errand, or put a clothes hanger by the washing machine when you need to do laundry.
- Find a way to rephrase. If you’re having trouble finding the right word in conversation, try thinking of other ways to say what you mean.
- Channel your strengths. Focus on activities that you enjoy — and that give you the time you need to process everything. For example, if you like to play games on your computer or phone, you may prefer turn-based games that give you plenty of time to think about your next move.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Lupus fog can make it hard to multitask. If you’re having trouble concentrating, try things like turning the TV off when you’re cooking, or pausing email notifications while you’re filling out an online form.
- Take your time. When you have to plan something or figure out a problem, budget for the extra time you’ll need to do it. Try cutting down the number of things you need to do, too — and remember to go easy on yourself as you adjust to what feels manageable.
It’s also important to remember that you’re not alone. Many people with lupus find it helpful to seek out support groups where you can connect with others who are also dealing with lupus fog.
And if lupus fog is causing a lot of problems in your life, there are professionals called cognitive therapists who can help you learn ways to manage and cope with your symptoms. There is a lot of research being done on lupus fog and the results will help us to better understand lupus fog and improve the quality of life for people with lupus.
For many people, symptoms of lupus fog come and go over time. Use a notebook or online diary to keep track of your symptoms. Tell your doctor if your lupus fog gets worse or if you notice any new symptoms.
Our health educators are available to answer your questions and give you the help you need.