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Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

Clearing Away MS Brain Fog

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You’re having a conversation, and suddenly you can't remember the right word -- or the wrong words come tumbling out of your mouth. You're cooking dinner, the timer's going off, but you can't remember why you set it. 

When brain fog clouds your thinking, you may feel frustrated or embarrassed. You may also wonder what it means for your MS. But don’t worry. It happens. With your doctor’s help and some new techniques, you can learn ways to work around it.

4 Brain Fog Basics

Brain fog is a catchall term for all sorts of brain changes that can come with MS. Here are four things to know.

  1. It's common. About half the people with MS have these issues at some point, says Rosalind Kalb, PhD, a clinical psychologist and vice president of clinical care at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. For most, the cloudy thinking is mild and manageable. Only 5% to 10% of people with MS have issues with their thinking that seriously affect their day-to-day life or career.
  2. It can affect your short-term memory, attention, and concentration. It can muck up your ability to retain new information and plan.But it doesn't usually affect your intelligence, reading comprehension, or long-term memory.
  3. It may get worse over time, but it may not. Once you have episodes of brain fog, they usually don't go away completely. They are more likely to progress slowly.
  4. It can have many causes. Sometimes the fog is triggered by actual changes in the brain caused by MS. But it can also be brought on by other issues -- like depression, fatigue, and side effects from medication.

 

Tips for Managing Brain Fog

Pinpoint the cause. Talk to your doctor. You could have an underlying and treatable condition -- like depression -- that's to blame for your fuzzy thinking. Taking medications for bladder problems and having trouble sleeping can also leave you foggy, says Cindy Richman, senior director of patient and health care relations at the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.

Get organized. If your memory is unreliable, stop relying on it. "You really have to replace your memory with organization," Kalb says. Get in the habit of writing everything down.  

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