Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people experience after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. These conditions are commonly referred to as "long COVID" or "post-COVID."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled a list of commonly reported symptoms among COVID long-haulers, which includes “brain fog.” Approximately 40% of long-haul patients said they experienced poor memory or brain fog, one study found.
What is brain fog?
Brain fog is not a diagnosis. It’s a general way to describe a feeling of having difficulty thinking or concentrating – and it’s not unique to COVID. Other illnesses can cause this feeling; as well as stress, lack of sleep, medications and hormonal changes.
As brain fog is not a medical condition and there is no lab test to back up what a patient reports as their symptoms, it can be difficult for both doctors and patients to discuss questions of how long the feeling will last, as well as treatment options. Experts are continuing to study brain fog, as well as other long COVID symptoms, to learn more.
However, doctors with the American Medical Association want patients to know that the cognitive symptoms associated with brain fog – including feeling mentally sluggish, having problems concentrating or processing information, or not feeling as sharp – are real symptoms, and that they are not alone.
Long COVID cases on the decline
Emerging evidence shows long COVID symptoms are beginning to resolve, as data tracked by the CDC indicate the number of people with long COVID is declining.
Currently, 17% of the population said they had long COVID previously but no longer do – and about 11% of the population currently has long COVID, according to the CDC’s Household Pulse Survey. And most people with long COVID – about 52% – find their symptoms limit their activities, but not in a significant way.
Managing brain fog
Doctors with the American Medical Association have several tips for managing the symptoms of brain fog:
- Identify which tasks are the most difficult for you to process, like multitasking or being engaged in a meeting or activity. Before beginning that activity, create a written plan for how you’re going to carry it out and then follow it. Support your memory by taking extra written notes and using a calendar to remember key dates.
- Prioritize sleep. Getting good quality rest can help your cognitive function, as well as staying hydrated and eating a balanced diet.
- Exercise the body and mind. Brain fog can make you feel down. Start small with a 10-minute walk or yoga practice to move your body. To help stimulate your mind, try a puzzle, read a new book or learn something new. Slowly increase the amount of time you spend doing these mind and body activities and see how they impact how you feel.
- Manage your stress. If you are concerned and worried about something, it makes it difficult for you to focus on the task at hand. For example, if visiting the doctor is stressful for you, have someone come with you to the appointment to help you make sure all of your questions are answered.
- Stay in touch with your emotions. Prioritize your emotional and mental health by setting boundaries and realistic expectations for yourself as you heal.
Talk with your doctor about your brain fog, especially if it’s beginning to interfere with your daily activities or if you think it’s getting worse. Your primary care provider is a great resource to consult on your symptoms and can recommend treatment solutions.