What causes brain fog? Women are concerned about this potential COVID side effect

Here's what the experts want you to know if you're wondering what causes brain fog

woman touching head, looking sad, clouds, depicting brain fog, what causes brain fog?
(Image credit: Getty Images/Ponomariova_Maria)

What causes brain fog? Women are starting to suspect that COVID-19 is responsible for a fuzzy memory and difficulty concentrating. 

As if the virus has not presented us with enough side effects—can COVID cause hair loss and can the COVID vaccine delay your period are two recent issues that have piqued our interest—now we're starting to stress about our cognitive function. (Wait, what was on that grocery list again?)

Before assuming the worst, take a step back. We spoke to Dr. Andrew E. Budson, the chief of cognitive and behavioral neurology at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, a lecturer in neurology at Harvard Medical School and the chair of the Science of Learning Innovation Group at the Harvard Medical School Academy.  

Here's what you need to know about COVID-related brain fog. 

What causes brain fog? Is COVID to blame?

We questioned "Is the pandemic aging our brain? and now we're wondering if this coronavirus is the reason we've become so forgetful. 

Though many women who have recovered from COVID assume their brain fog is a direct result of the virus, Dr. Budson recommends confirming with a professional before making assumptions. 

"The COVID infection most frequently causes non-specific changes in the brain that are difficult to determine and might not be seen on MRI scans," he says. "Reach out to a primary care doctor and make sure there's no obvious cause of the brain fog." 

He explains that there could be underlying problems that have gone unnoticed, including thyroid issues or perhaps a vitamin deficiency that was exacerbated by the virus. 

Although there is not a concrete reason pinpointing how COVID and brain fog intertwines, according to Hackensack Meridian Health, cognitive issues can possibly be a result of lung problems that caused a lack of blood in the bloodstream or bodily injuries, per Dr. Budson. 

Your best bet is to always seek advice from a medical professional before assuming anything and self-diagnosing. 

What are symptoms of brain fog?

Brain frog presents issues with thinking, concentrating and remembering. It is not entirely unlikely that you cannot recall something you just read or find it hard to concentrate during morning Zoom calls. 

Other possibilities you might be experiencing with brain fog, according to Hackensack Meridian Health, include: 

  • Losing your train of thought
  • Finding the right words
  • Taking more time to complete tasks 

How to treat brain fog

Dr. Budson recommends it's always best to listen to your body and not overexert yourself. 

His top tips include: getting a good night's rest (get better sleep with these expert-backed tips), participating in about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day if you're able (here's the best time to exercise, according to pros), and eating a Mediterranean diet of fish, olive oil, avocados, fruits and vegetables, among other foods. 

"The good news is that most people who experience this COVID-related trouble recover within a matter of weeks or months," Dr. Budson says. 

According to other experts, if you're wondering how to deal with brain fog, lower your screen time, drink more water and get rid of distractions (a.k.a. social media). 

Although a little fogginess is not uncommon and will likely go away, always confirm what you're feeling with a medical professional, as people experience COVID-19 and other viruses differently. 

Danielle Valente
Digital News Writer

Need a TV show recommendation? Maybe a few decor tips? Danielle, a digital news writer at Future, has you covered. Her work appears throughout the company’s lifestyle brands, including My Imperfect Life, Real Homes, and woman&home. Mainly, her time is spent at My Imperfect Life, where she’s attuned to the latest entertainment trends and dating advice for Gen Z.

Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids, where she got to experience the best of the city from the point of view of its littlest residents. Before that, she was a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, and amNewYork, to name a few. 

When Danielle’s not writing, you can find her testing out a new recipe, reading a book (suggestions always welcome), or rearranging the furniture in her apartment…again.