Ask An Expert·3 min read

When You Should — and Shouldn’t — Worry About Brain Fog

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Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
March 26, 2024

Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you went in there in the first place? How about several times a day or week? You might have a case of brain fog (an umbrella term for cognitive impairment) says James Jackson, PsyD, neuropsychologist and author of "Clearing the Fog.” But a little fogginess when you’re sleep-deprived or pregnant is different from something more serious. So how do you know what’s causing it? We asked Jackson to explain when to be concerned.

What’s causing my brain fog — and should I be worried?

You should probably talk to a doctor about your brain fog when: it’s new, it doesn’t go away for several weeks, and it’s “significant enough to interfere with your day-to-day functioning,” Jackson says. 

Featured Expert:

James C. Jackson, PsyD

James C. Jackson, PsyD - A licensed psychologist specializing in neuropsychology and rehabilitation.

Anything from autoimmune diseases to chemotherapy to long COVID can all contribute to cognitive impairment, says Jackson. “For some, brain fog is really a brain injury” caused by an illness, he says. Other issues that may contribute to brain fog include…

  • ADHD

  • Concussion

  • Sleep deprivation

  • Pregnancy

  • Hormonal changes

  • Stress

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Substance abuse

  • Certain medications

How do I get rid of brain fog?

While getting rid of it entirely is ideal, improving everyday functioning is the ultimate goal, says Jackson. You may still feel it, but you’ll be able to do things like find your phone and do your job more easily. 

Stimulant medications (like those used to treat ADHD) may help improve your focus and concentration. Your doctor may also investigate any other underlying causes that might be triggering the brain fog, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or medication side effects. “In those cases, we're going to remove that dynamic, and then people's cognition is going to return quickly to normal,” he says. 

If there’s no external cause, cognitive rehabilitation with a speech and language pathologist is another option. Jackson compares it to physical therapy for your brain — they can teach you strategies to be more mindful and make daily functioning easier.

Ask an Expert is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a question, you are agreeing to let theSkimm use it—in part or in full—and we may edit its answer for length and/or clarity.

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