There are many symptoms associated with COVID that many people are aware of such as coughing, runny nose, and body aches. However, one of the symptoms many people are not familiar with or prepared for is COVID brain fog. Here’s what you should know.
Brain fog is not a technical term but is a way to describe an array of symptoms that affect thinking. Each person exhibits a different combination of issues, which may include confusion, memory loss, difficulty recalling words, slow thinking, trouble focusing, and easy distractibility.
One person who has experienced long-hauler brain fog is Fiona Lowenstein, a New York City-based TV producer and writer, who developed a case of COVID-19 last March that was severe enough to require hospitalization. The experience led Lowenstein to cofound the support group Body Politic, which now has more than 9,000 members who share over 60 channels on Slack.
Lowenstein describes a range of short-term memory issues that wreaked havoc on daily life: walking to the cabinet to get detergent while doing laundry and then forgetting why, or staring at the computer trying to write, sometimes not recalling the topic and other times grasping for the proper word.
Others on Body Politic similarly complain that the brain fog affects their work, with some struggling to stay productive and others leaving their jobs because they find it impossible to function.
The term “COVID brain fog” has become a hashtag on social media, often used in a lighthearted way to indicate the mental lapses that many of us are experiencing from the stress of the pandemic — finding those broccoli florets sitting in the oven days after you cooked them, or watching half a movie before realizing you saw it days before.
COVID-19 long-haulers, who recover from the acute phase of the illness but continue to experience symptoms for weeks or even months, know it is something much more serious: It describes memory loss, concentration issues, and other cognitive problems that make it hard to get through a normal day.
Other common signs of ongoing impairment, nicknamed long-COVID, include exhaustion, body aches, and a hacking cough.
Cognitive slowing and mood problems after a person is infected with the novel coronavirus seem to be much more prevalent than with most other viral infections, says Serena Spudich, MD, a professor of neurology at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, and a physician at Yale’s neuroCOVID-19 clinic, which opened in October. Dr. Spudich has spoken with dozens of people, some of whom were hospitalized with the disease, and others who had only a mild case but couldn’t seem to shake their symptoms.
French researchers queried 120 patients a month after they were released from the hospital for COVID-19 complications. Close to 34 percent reported continued memory loss and 28 percent said they had problems concentrating. The study was published by the Journal of Infection in August 2020.
Brain fog is now listed as a “reported long-term symptom” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), albeit a less common one than fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint aches, or chest pain.