Lupus Fog and Memory Problems

From the WebMD Archives

Lupus fog -- the forgetfulness and fuzzy-headed feeling that can come with lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE) – can be one of the most frustrating symptoms of the condition.

The term lupus fog means more than memory problems. It also refers to cognitive difficulties, such as trouble helping your child with homework, or writing a grocery list.

"It can really make your whole world fall apart," says Janet Foley Orosz, PhD, a public policy expert in Ohio who has struggled with lupus fog for almost 20 years. She's now collaborating on a web site and vocational program designed to help others with the condition.

There's no cure for lupus, so there's no cure for lupus fog either. But there are ways to work around your problems with concentration and memory. Here's what you need to know.

What Is Lupus Fog?

Lupus fog is a general name for the cognitive impairments that often appear with lupus, including concentration and memory problems, confusion, and difficulty expressing yourself. These cognitive problems are often worse during flares.

The good news: Lupus fog doesn’t usually get progressively worse, like dementia or Alzheimer's disease, says Lisa Fitzgerald, MD, a rheumatologist at the Lupus Center of Excellence at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Instead, memory issues will probably wax and wane, just like other lupus symptoms.

The exact cause of lupus fog is hard to pin down, experts say. In some cases, lupus can damage cells in the brain, leading directly to cognitive problems. However, in most cases other factors play a role, including fatigue, stress, and depression. Lupus fog is sometimes worse in people who also have fibromyalgia. Although it's possible that side effects from drugs such as NSAIDs or steroids could worsen lupus fog, experts say that switching medicines rarely resolves the problem.

While researchers study possible causes of lupus fog, Orosz focuses on coping strategies that help people deal with it.

"When you're a person dealing with lupus fog, you don't worry that much about what's causing it," says Orosz. "What you care about is learning how to work around it."

Here are some tips that may help you deal with lupus fog.