Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common autoimmune diseases that affects people today. While the prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis means that more individuals suffer from this chronic condition and impact it has on their lives, there’s an upside too. Because rheumatoid arthritis is among the most common autoimmune diseases, it’s perhaps best understood by researchers and physicians. Some of the side effects that are commonly associated with rheumatoid arthritis include pain, especially in the muscles and joints, and fatigue.
Although these symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable or in some cases debilitating, medical care providers do have more treatment options and resources for helping patients manage them. While these symptoms are regularly discussed, there are other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis that aren’t discussed as often but that can still be equally troubling. Among these, brain fog is perhaps a primary culprit.
What is brain fog?
Brain fog is a common man definition for a medical condition that physicians usually refer to as cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction. While brain fog isn’t a scientific term, it might actually be a better descriptor of the feelings associated with this condition. For patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, the term brain fog may ring a familiar bell. Brain fog is what is sounds like, a feeling of being clouded or fuzzy in the head. Brain fog can make it difficult to focus, process information, and make decisions.
At some point or another it’s likely that everyone will experience a form of brain fog. After all, we all have days where we don’t get enough sleep or where we’re stressed about an upcoming deadline. Stress and fatigue can certainly cause brain fog, but in these instances, the feeling of fuzziness usually resolves relatively quickly, typically once a person is able to get some rest or resolve whatever is causing them stress. In contrast to this type of brain fog, when the symptom is brought on by a physical condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, the effects can be more difficult to shake.
When brain fog is the result of rheumatoid arthritis the root of the problem goes deeper than a lack of sleep or stress. In these cases, the brain is responding to the body’s physical state and not functioning at normal or proper levels due to physiological problems. To resolve brain fog caused by a different underlying condition like rheumatoid arthritis, patients will likely need to take more intentional steps.
Brain fog and rheumatoid arthritis
While brain fog is certainly linked to a myriad of factors, numerous studies have also shown that it can be the direct result of rheumatoid arthritis. While the good news is that physicians have definitely linked brain fog or cognitive impairment to rheumatoid arthritis, the bad news is that they aren’t exactly sure what it is about the disease that causes this fuzzy feeling.
Researchers have speculated that a number of different factors could be at play in this equation. One theory is that there is a link between brain fog and cardiovascular disease brought on by rheumatoid arthritis. In this case, the brain fog could be due to severe underlying fatigue that the body is experiencing due to strain on the heart. Similarly, researchers have noted that brain fog could be due to fatigue. Rheumatoid arthritis is known to cause fatigue in patients and brain fog can be a natural byproduct of fatigue whether brought on by a disease or just a lack of sleep. In this case, the link seems relatively simple, but researchers aren’t sure that it’s the only possible explanation.
In addition to bodily fatigue either due to cardiovascular strain or just a lack energy, some medical professionals have also hypothesized that brain fog is a symptom of depression. In patients dealing with rheumatoid arthritis, depression is a common comorbid condition. Depression in patients may be the result of fatigue as well as the numerous and often intense lifestyle changes that have to be made in order to accommodate life with this condition. Whether depression is brought on by rheumatoid arthritis or other factors in a patient’s life, it’s a known cause of brain fog.
Doctors have also speculated that brain fog could be a side-effect from certain medications, particularly oral corticosteroids or oral glucocorticoids. These are medications are commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but they can often cause memory trouble and make it difficult to concentrate. If you’re on medication for rheumatoid arthritis and experiencing brain fog, it’s best to speak with your doctor about your symptoms and to explore the possibility of alternate treatment options.
Lastly, medical providers believe that pain itself could be a cause of brain fog. One of the primary and most noticeable symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is the pain that it causes, especially in the muscles and joints. When pain occurs, the body tends to focus its attention on the region that’s in distress. When the body focuses on pain it takes away energy and resources from the brain thereby hampering other functions such as concentration and decision making. In patients with rheumatoid arthritis who are living in constant pain, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain normal cognitive functioning while also dealing with chronic pain.
Options for improvement
Since doctors don’t know exactly what it is about rheumatoid arthritis that causes cognitive impairment, it’s difficult to pinpoint one single solution for the problem. Although there isn’t currently a surefire cure, physicians have made some recommendations for handling this symptom. First of all, and perhaps one of the easiest steps to take is to maintain an active lifestyle. Studies have shown that even just twenty minutes of moderate activity per day can drastically improve brain function. In addition to counteracting brain fog, regular activity has a whole host of other benefits for physical and emotional health. While this may seem like a simple suggestion, it is important to remember that sometimes the nature of rheumatoid arthritis prevents patients from being active. You certainly shouldn’t get down on yourself for not completing twenty minutes of exercise per day if your pain and fatigue is holding you back. If pain and fatigue are major restrictions, then just focus on being as active as you can. Even a short afternoon walk can have a positive impact.
In addition to making physical changes, patients should also discuss their mental health with their physicians. If you’re feeling lethargic or depressed, or if you find yourself worrying frequently or feeling anxious then you should talk to your doctor about these symptoms. Brain fog can be a direct result of depression and anxiety. If this is the cause of your cognitive impairment, then your physician may be able to prescribe medication or point you to another treatment option such as therapy.
Finally, rheumatoid arthritis patients experiencing brain fog should discuss their cardiovascular health with their medical providers. Since brain fog can be a symptom of poor cardiovascular health it can also be a barometer for your present condition. If you find yourself having an extremely difficult time focusing or remembering things, then you may have more serious underlying issues that need to be addressed.
Although rheumatoid arthritis is a wide spread condition, it’s increasingly treatable. Thanks to growing knowledge about the disease and its symptoms, medical providers are now able to recommend a variety of treatment options to help patients manage their conditions. A lot of treatment options focus on managing physical conditions such as pain and fatigue, but mental symptoms such as brain fog can be equally important. Brain fog has been definitely linked to rheumatoid arthritis. While the exact nature of the link is still somewhat fuzzy, medical providers have identified several treatment options that can help manage this symptom and keep you thinking straight.
You can read more about the relationship between brain fog and rheumatoid arthritis at Healthguides.