Do you sometimes have trouble putting together thoughts? Do you forget where you left your shoes or your cellphone? Do you blank on a person’s name moments after meeting him?
In addition to affecting your heart, lungs, kidneys, and other parts of your body, lupus can impair your mind. While frustrating, these experiences are common for people who are dealing with what’s called lupus fog.
“A patient explained the experience of lupus fog most clearly by saying, ‘I have to squeeze my brain really hard just to get a thought out,’” says Betty Diamond, M.D., one of the country’s leading lupus researchers and head of the Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Diseases at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System Foundation.
What Causes the Fog?
No one is quite sure why lupus affects the mind.
“In my lab, we’re pursuing the notion that antibodies associated with lupus may interfere with the mind in a certain way,” Dr. Diamond says. “Lupus fog also could be a result of elevated levels of inflammatory molecules in the body, due to lupus, that may alter the brain.”
Another explanation? People with lupus tend to take many different medications, which could cause cognitive impairment on their own or by interacting with one another, Dr. Diamond adds. (Additionally, alcohol consumption combined with medication can make lupus fog even worse.) The good news is that once scientists understand what’s behind lupus fog, they’ll be one step closer to developing treatments to help control it.
How Can I Cope with Lupus Fog?
For now, there’s plenty you can do to keep a foggy mind from interfering with your life and work. Here are seven ways to make lupus fog more manageable:
1. Talk with your doctor. “When you’re experiencing lupus fog, let your doctor know,” Dr. Diamond says. “Your doctor may evaluate the medications you’re taking to see if some are causing cognitive impairments, then adjust them as necessary.” Your doctor will also investigate whether your lupus fog is related to a flare in disease activity and will take steps to control it.
2. Get plenty of rest. “Being sleep-deprived makes it difficult to think clearly, focus, and remember things,” Dr. Diamond says. “If you’re already experiencing lupus fog, fatigue can make your symptoms worse.”
3. Make lists. For instance, always keep a checklist of the medications you take, their dosages, and the times you take them. This list will keep you on track even when you’re feeling forgetful.
4. Use a planner. Write down any meetings and appointments you have. Whether you’re experiencing lupus fog or not, this means you won’t have to rely on your memory alone to keep your dates straight.
5. Keep stress levels low. An increase in stress and anxiety can contribute to lupus fog. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation. Exercising when you feel well can also keep stress at bay.
6. Try to accomplish one task at a time. Whether you’re cooking a meal or paying bills, focus on the task at hand instead of trying to do multiple things at once. Be patient with yourself if everyday activities take you longer than normal to do.
7. Be mindful about memory. Whenever you learn a new piece of information, such as someone’s name, repeat it several times to yourself or write it down.
“Many people feel relieved when they learn that symptoms of lupus fog tend to come and go,” Dr. Diamond says. “During those difficult times, hang in there and remind yourself that it often gets better.”