Lupus is an autoimmune disease that damages all the organs in the body, including the brain. “Lupus brain fog” refers to cognitive problems, mood imbalances, and the fatigue people experience. It’s common but infrequently talked about. In this article, we bring up some possible symptoms and potential complementary strategies to discuss with your doctor. What is “Lupus Fog”?
Many people with lupus suffer from “brain fog,” mood disorders, and fatigue. The term “lupus fog” was coined to describe all these symptoms [ 1 ].
Research suggests that about 10% to 80% of people diagnosed with lupus experience cognitive problems at some point. The range is so large partly because different criteria are being used to define cognitive decline and low mood [ 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 ]. Lupus
Systemic lupus ( systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE ) is a chronic autoimmune disease that often affects women more than men [ 7 ].
In lupus, white blood cells incorrectly identify the body’s own tissues as a threat. These cells become hyperactive and produce antibodies against healthy tissues. The tissues under attack — including the brain, skin, muscles, bones, and lungs — become inflamed and less functional [ 7 ].
Symptoms of lupus vary from person to person and include fatigue, fever, and weight loss [ 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 ].
Research suggests that when lupus affects the central nervous system — the spinal cord and brain — people may begin to experience “lupus brain fog” and/or headaches , depression , anxiety , seizures, and strokes [ 7 ].
Lupus fog is “brain fog” experienced by people with lupus. It’s thought to be a result of autoimmune inflammation. “Brain Fog”
“Brain fog” is a broader term used to describe a constellation of cognitive symptoms, the most common ones being [ 13 , 14 ]: Reduced mental clarity (“mental fogginess”)
Inability to focus
Reduced ability to multitask
Long- and short-term memory loss
People subjectively describe feeling forgetful, confused, and scattered — enveloped in what is felt as a “thick mental haze.” They feel their brain is slower and less agile than it should be. Thoughts become sluggish, blurred, and draining [ 15 ].
According to one theory that has yet to be verified, “brain fog” might be caused by inflammation in the brain (as in lupus). Scientists hypothesize it might be triggered by [ 14 , 13 , 16 ]:
It’s important to partner up with your doctor to uncover the underlying causes of your symptoms.
People say “brain fog” is so frustrating because, for one, it is not a diagnosis. It’s a set of subjective symptoms. You may have “brain fog”, but it could be too “mild” or “unspecific” to be labeled as cognitive impairment . Likewise, “lupus fog” is not a diagnosis, though doctors accept its existence.
While only people with lupus get “lupus fog,” anyone can experience “brain fog.” Inflammation is hypothesized to contribute to it, but the exact cause is unknown. Symptoms of “Lupus Fog”
According to the research and clinical data, the main symptom of “lupus fog” is cognitive dysfunction : people may experience long- and short-term memory problems, have difficulty forming abstract thoughts, and feel like their sense of judgment is off [ 1 , 17 ].
Some people also feel like they can’t understand and express speech ( aphasia ) or plan movements. Others find it difficult to recognize familiar objects ( agnosia ) and may also undergo personality changes [ 1 , 17 ].
“Lupus fog” can take a large toll on day-to-day life. It may reduce productivity by 20-80% [ 1 ].
Studies point out that it often arises alongside depression , fatigue , and anxiety early on — each of which can worsen “brain fog” [ 1 ].
People with “lupus fog” may also experience a “ clouding of consciousness ” that intensifies at night. They often find it hard to focus and have reduced awareness of their physical environment. It can get frustrating, and people describe feeling like they’re losing control, becoming agitated, or even aggressive [ 18 ].
Additionally, about 5% of people diagnosed with systemic lupus will experience episodes of psychosis. These episodes can cause a loss of self-control, delusions, and hallucinations [ 1 , 17 ].
The main symptoms of lupus fog evolve around difficulties remembering, thinking, focusing, understanding language, and recognizing familiar objects. Why Does “Lupus Brain Fog” Happen? Proposed Mechanisms
The exact cause of “lupus brain fog” is unknown. Scientists hypothesize it happens when the immune cells attack the brain and cause inflammation. Inflammation appears to slow down or stop brain cells from properly working [ 19 , 3 ].However, research is still in the early, experimental phases. Therefore, all the factors and biochemical processes outlined below are experimental and their contribution to disease development uncertain. The aim of this section is to outline research findings for informational purposes only. Potential mechanisms shown here are commonly associated with “lupus fog.” Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.Also, have in mind that complex disorders like lupus and its associated cognitive symptoms always involve multiple possible factors – including brain chemistry, environment, health status, and genetics – that may vary from one person to another. 1) Blood-Brain Barrier Breakdown Might Let Toxins In According to one unverified theory, one of the reasons “lupus brain fog” happens might be blood vessel disease. Scientists hypothesize that the barrier between the bloodstream and brain might start breaking down (i.e. “ leaky brain ”), allowing harmful substances to sneak in. Antibodies also purportedly enter the brain this way, potentially increasing inflammation, damaging brain cells, and triggering memory problems [ 20 , 21 ]. 2) Antibodies Against Brain Cells May Worsen Cognition Directly connected to blood-brain barrier damage, one analysis of 41 studies compared antibody levels in lupus patients with and without “brain fog.” Patients experiencing “lupus fog” had more antibodies targeting brain cells and their key components (i.e. ribosomes) [ […]