Rheumatoid arthritis and brain fog, memory loss connection

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | General Health | Thursday, April 07, 2016 - 03:00 PM

Rhumatoid arthritis and brain fogRheumatoid arthritis is connected to brain fog and memory loss. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is commonly associated with joint inflammation, joint pain, stiffness, and impaired mobility, but many patients experience alternative symptoms such as brain fog or memory loss. They may find themselves being forgetful at times or having difficulty thinking.

Brain fog isn’t a medically diagnosed term, but it refers to forgetfulness, confusion, or lack of focus and mental clarity. It’s almost as if you can’t think and your brain just doesn’t want to do its job – this can be quite frustrating. The good news is, brain fog is temporary, but the bad news is, it can occur often leaving you lacking words when you need them most or just being confused about what is going on around you.

Rheumatoid arthritis, brain fog link

Not every rheumatoid arthritis patient will experience brain fog, but many of them do. In fact, one study found that 30 to 70 percent of RA patients may experience brain fog from time to time. But what makes a joint disease affect our brain?

Well, there are many different mechanisms that can contribute to brain fog in rheumatoid arthritis. For starters, the use of corticosteroids, which is a common treatment method for RA, can contribute to brain fog. Heart conditions have also been associated with higher cognitive dysfunction.

Other studied factors are depression and anxiety, which are often an inseparable part of living with chronic pain. One Canadian study found that individuals living with higher pain scored poorly on tests measuring their executive functions such as planning, decision-making and working memory like following instructions.

An alternative Canadian study from Calgary found that inflammation elsewhere in the body may contribute to brain fog as well. While studying lab mice, the researchers found that inflamed tissues transmitted signals that produced symptoms like malaise and fatigue to the brain. Chronic inflammation was found to activate immune cells, sending them to the brain and prompting them to release proteins known as cytokines. When in the brain, cytokines alter quantity and activity of neurotransmitters, which are critical chemical messengers.

Rheumatoid arthritis and prevalence of cognitive problems, memory loss: Previous study

A previous study carried out by So Young Shin gave rheumatoid arthritis patients various tests to measure physical, psychosocial, and biologic meters. Cognitive function was measured with the use of 12 standardized neuropsychological measures yielding 16 indices.

The results yielded that 31 percent of the 115 participants scored poorly on four of the 16 cognitive ability indices. Furthermore, many of the participants struggled with the tests of mental clarity and sharpness.

Individuals who scored lowest were more likely to come from low education backgrounds, have low income, use oral glucocorticoids, and have greater risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Coping with rheumatoid arthritis brain fog

Brain FogCoping with rheumatoid arthritis brain fog can be challenging as you may find yourself at a loss for words, confused, and simply frustrated. The good news is, there are plenty of options available for you to combat and live with rheumatoid arthritis brain fog and keep it at bay so it does not continue to negatively impact your quality of life.

Some tips to cope with rheumatoid arthritis brain fog include:

  • Treat rheumatoid arthritis: Properly managing your RA can help reduce inflammation, which triggers brain bog.
  • Treat RA pain: Pain reduction lowers the risk of depression and anxiety, which can contribute to brain fog. As the previous study indicated, those living with higher pain are more likely to experience brain fog, so managing your pain can offer clearer thinking.
  • Rest: Get adequate and proper sleep, as poor sleep can worsen inflammation and pain and increase daytime fatigue, which can worsen brain fog.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Avoid foods that can trigger inflammation like saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates. Some patients have found that sticking with the Mediterranean diet has offered them relief from their brain fog.
  • Take care of yourself: Taking the time to take care of yourself and boost your self-esteem and confidence can help you feel better overall.
  • Be organized: Leave yourself sticky notes or reminders or set alarms in case you do become forgetful.

Prevention tips for rheumatoid arthritis brain fog, memory loss

Stopping the brain fog before it starts can help you live a more fulfilled day-to-day life. Here are some prevention tips for rheumatoid arthritis brain fog and memory loss to help promote clearer thinking.

  • Work closely with your doctor and report any changes you may find in your disease.
  • Rest whenever you need to and don’t overstrain yourself. Otherwise, you will just become exhausted and more forgetful.
  • Listen attentively to your body. If it doesn’t feel right or if you need a break, don’t push yourself to do more.
  • Plan to do more difficult tasks early on in the day and don’t leave them for later when you are more tired and less clear-minded.
  • Partake in regular low impact exercises, which can reduce stress and alleviate pain.
  • Monitor your symptoms in a journal and pay attention if you notice any changes. Journaling your symptoms can help you better understand your brain fog and highlight any potential triggers, i.e., certain times in the day.
  • If you are having difficulties managing and coping with your brain fog, seek out professional health care provider to help you monitor your mental stress and offer you effective coping strategies.

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