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What's the link between brain fog and rheumatoid arthritis? | by heidi


Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation that affects not only the joints but other organ systems, too. One of the lesser-known symptoms of the condition is brain fog.

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, report having trouble thinking clearly, problems with memory, and difficulty concentrating.

These symptoms, known as brain fog, are widespread in people with chronic inflammatory conditions, including RA, Sjogren’s syndrome, and multiple sclerosis.

With proper treatment and by taking preventative steps, a person with RA may be able to get the brain fog to lift.

How does rheumatoid arthritis cause brain fog?

Poor memory and trouble concentrating are characteristics of brain fog.

People mostly associate RA with swollen and painful joints. However, for many people with RA that is only one of the symptoms they face.

RA is a chronic condition that causes inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation can lead to joint pain and stiffness, swelling, and decreased joint mobility. RA can also affect the eyes, skin, lungs, and brain.

Many people with RA and other chronic inflammatory conditions also complain of feeling mentally foggy and having difficulty thinking.

Scientists believe there may be a link between chronic inflammation and the cognitive impairment that people refer to as brain fog.

The results showed a link between RA inflammation and changes in the patterns of brain connections. It also showed a lower volume of gray matter in an area of the brain known as the inferior parietal lobe.

The study suggests that fatigue, pain, and an impaired ability to think are associated with these brain changes.

Researchers believe these alterations to brain tissues may have a role in converting inflammation signals to the rest of the central nervous system.

A larger study from 2013Trusted Source looked at 115 people with RA. This research also found that RA is related to an impaired ability to think.

The results suggest that the risk is higher in people who use corticosteroids as an RA treatment and who have risk factors for heart disease, which may include high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Lastly, people living with chronic pain may find themselves distracted by the pain, and the fatigue the pain causes. Not only does pain pull a person’s focus away from mental tasks, but it may disrupt the amount or quality of sleep they get, leading to tiredness.

People who sleep poorly often report feelings of being not as alert or feeling foggy.

Other effects of RA on the brain

Many people with RA and other chronic pain conditions experience depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety may also cause brain fog and an impaired ability to think straight.

Similarly, depression can cause restlessness, insomnia, and other symptoms that may lead to decreased mental abilities.

Other causes of brain fog

Stress and lack of sleep can also cause brain fog.

Many other factors and conditions can cause brain fog in addition to RA. These can include inflammatory or other medical conditions, mood disorders, and lifestyle factors.

The following conditions of lifestyle factors can all cause brain fog:

Sjogren’s syndrome

multiple sclerosis (MS)



thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)








lack of sleep

lack of exercise

Treating and preventing brain fog

Making lists and using a planner will help with organization.

Brain fog can be very frustrating for those living with RA. There are steps a person with RA can take to help treat and alleviate brain fog.

Treatment and lifestyle modifications to help manage brain fog associated with RA include:

disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs known as DMARDs

biologic drugs that block inflammation and relieve pain

getting more sleep

exercising regularly

staying organized by using a set schedule, a planner with key events, and to-do lists