How To Cope With Migraine Brain Fog And Forgetfulness
How To Cope With Migraine Brain Fog And Forgetfulness
What Is Migraine Brain Fog?
If you’re feeling groggy, inattentive, or even forgetful after a migraine attack, you may have just experienced migraine brain fog. You may experience migraine brain fog before a migraine attack or during a migraine attack. You may even experience brain fog after a migraine attack.
A big proponent of the term “brain fog” is Dr. Elizabeth Seng, an assistant professor of psychology and research associate professor at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein Medical College . The reason Dr. Seng appreciates the terminology is that the term describes the feeling of a person accurately. It may seem like someone is trying to find their way through “a fog.” Dr. Seng recounts that patients usually describe brain fog as a migraine postdrome/migraine hangover symptom.
Interestingly, brain fog is a very common migraine symptom. Many people instinctively know that an impending migraine attack is coming when they experience an atypical kind of forgetfulness or mental haziness.
What Does Migraine Brain Fog Feel Like?
While everyone experiences migraine brain fog differently, here are some symptoms of migraine brain fog:
- Difficulty in choosing the right words to articulate your thoughts. This is also known as aphasia.
- Forgetfulness or memory loss
- Inattentiveness or difficulty in focusing (The general sense of cognitive “haziness”)
- Reduced alertness
- Difficulty in finishing tasks
Forgetfulness or memory loss is a common migraine fog symptom. You may just walk down the stairs to the kitchen to get a drink, only to wonder to yourself why you’re in the kitchen.
Aphasia is also a very common migraine brain fog symptom. This can be frustrating as you might struggle with finding the right words to communicate the disease. You find the words in your mind to speak out only.. for the words to just fizzle away. Experts have found a link between aphasia with migraine aura, which explains why some brain fog symptoms may occur before an actual migraine attack.
Even though brain fog is not the most debilitating symptom of migraine postdrome/migraine hangover, it is the most noticeable for patients. However, some symptoms of migraine fog coincide with symptoms of other conditions, such as a stroke. For example, you may experience some form of aphasia prior to a stroke. Hence, it’s important to consult a health practitioner, or even go to the emergency room for migraine treatment, if you’re in doubt.
What Causes Migraine Brain Fog?
Dr. Seng’s research on brain fog concluded that brain fog is often caused by cortical depression in the brain. Cortical depression affects our brain cells, specifically the cortex. During the process of cortical spreading depression, our cortex brain cells move from the back of the brain to the front. This phenomenon is known as cortical spreading depression (CSD). CSD explains the link between migraine and brain fog. Interestingly, cortical spreading depression is known to influence migraine aura and migraine postdrome symptoms too. Brain fog that happens after a migraine attack is also known as post-migraine brain fog.
Some migraine medications may even cause migraine brain fog. For example, migraine medications like Topamax (topiramate) can cause migraine brain fog. In fact, Topiramate can cause a brain fog that’s so intense that Topamax was nicknamed “Dopamax”. Sounds funny, but no one is laughing when this happens to them! Hence, it’s important to better understand the side effects of Topiramate to assess whether it’s a suitable medication for you.
Research has also shown that migraine brain fog symptoms cannot affect someone’s memory and cognitive ability later on in life.
How Long Does Migraine Brain Fog Last?
After the pain of a migraine attack subsides, migraine brain fog may last for up to 24 hours. Following a migraine attack, some individuals may experience difficulty concentrating on tasks or thinking clearly. Brain fog can arise not only as a result of medication but also during the postdrome phase.
How To Get Rid Of Migraine Brain Fog?
While there is no cure for migraine brain fog, there are ways to cope with it. Here are some ways that you can get rid of migraine brain fog, or at least cope with it:
- Write down everything: Writing down what you need to do is one of the basic ways you can cope with brain fog and forgetfulness. This will also help to keep you on task. You may use a diary, sticky notes, and so on to provide a reference to your daily tasks
- Get help and talk to someone: It may feel silly to ask someone to remind you to stay on track for your daily tasks but open communication is important to help your loved ones better understand what you’re going through.
- Migraine self-care: Whether it may be from eating a small snack, stretching, resting, or taking daily tasks slower. These are ways not necessarily to eliminate the postdrome effect of brain fog but to ease its intensity and make it slightly more bearable. Just make sure you avoid potential food triggers, like caffeine, sugar and so on!
- Taking acute medication as soon as possible. But do take note of the side effects of the medications you’re taking.
- Tracking with a Migraine Tracking app like Migraine Buddy allows you to better understand the symptoms of migraine prodrome and migraine postdrome. You can assess whether you experience migraine brain fog before a migraine attack (migraine prodrome) or after a migraine attack (migraine postdrome). There are some tips to track migraine attacks and migraine symptoms that we provide that can help you.
What Can You Do To Help Yourself?
The number one tip Dr. Seng mentions as paramount to coming out of an attack as strong as a patient went into it is to “…. plan to be extremely kind to yourself.” A migraine attack is debilitating and disabling, and a person’s mentality and self-esteem can take a hit. To come out of a migraine attack, deal with all of these symptoms and stressors, and say, “I am stronger than this,” is a massive testament to one’s character and will to fight this illness. Tell family members, friends, and co-workers about the symptoms one can experience to help them know how and when to assist or administer aid. Furthermore, the most important thing to do is talk to a doctor. A doctor has been trained, ready, and able to assist anyone with an illness like this. Learn to live and love life and not just survive it! This war has a considerable army fighting against the enemy, and no one is alone in the battle. Get all the help you need, and leverage on technology to cope with the condition.
Download Migraine Buddy on iOS and Android now!
1.“Migraine, Brain Fog, and Memory Loss: How They Affect You.” American Migraine Foundation, 29 Nov. 2022, https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/migraine-brain-fog/.
2. Salamon, Maureen. “Struggling with Migraine Hangovers? Read This.” Harvard Health, 8 June 2022, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/struggling-with-migraine-hangovers-read-this-202206082758.
The above article is contributed by David Wolberg, and the image is contributed by Audrey Fernandez. David and Audrey are two of our amazing volunteers. Join them in making an impact!