Before my thyroid diagnosis, and during those times when my thyroid treatment wasn’t optimal, I have had periods where my memory and ability to think clearly have been affected. I usually have a good memory. So, when I’ve forgotten simple things — even my address or phone number — or when I absolutely couldn’t remember a basic word, it was frustrating, embarrassing, and frightening. I’ve walked into a room to get something, only to forget what I was looking for more times than I can count. I’ve missed appointments. (I’m usually early!) And, a few times I forgot where I parked my car, and spent hours searching for it.
Thyroid patients call this “brain fog.”
What is brain fog?
Brain fog is a known “cognitive manifestation of hypothyroidism.” It’s a common symptom of undiagnosed/untreated hypothyroidism, and also a sign that your thyroid treatment is not optimal for you.
Brain fog encompasses several symptoms you may recognize. Here’s a brief checklist:
- You have difficulty focusing or concentrating
- You are forgetful and feel “spaced out”
- You have problems with your short-term and long-term memory
- You have difficulty remembering words, or you substitute or mix up words
- You have difficulty thinking clearly
- You feel mentally fatigued
- You feel confused and unmotivated
- You have reduced reactions or a slowed reaction time
- You feel unable to synthesize or process information
Thyroid patients share their experiences with brain fog
I asked some thyroid patients from my Thyroid Support group on Facebook to share their experiences with brain fog. Samantha described her frustration with memory problems and forgetfulness.
“My brain fog can leave me forgetting my own children’s names! I can say with no hesitation that I have called them every name going. I’ve put the wrong fuel in the car twice. Once, I took a very hot tray out of the oven with my bare hands, only realizing it when I smelled burning flesh!”
Jennifer had difficulty with finding the right words — a common complaint.
“One time, I told one of my kids it was getting cold and to ‘go put on a window.’ I meant sweater, but words would just come out of my mouth all mixed up.”
Deborah felt like she was losing more words each day.
“I could look at a can of Pepsi and recognize it as something I would drink, but I could not for the life of me recall what it was called. Same thing with a pen or coffee cup. I knew what it was used for but could not remember its name. I was stopping in midsentence to describe and ask for help to finish my thoughts!”
Gaston, an English teacher, shared similar concerns.
“I’ve been at a loss for words too many times than I count. I will be speaking and then woosh! The words are gone. Or, I find myself walking down the hall and have a flash of panic because I don’t know why I am walking down the hall.”
Debra has had similar experiences.
“My brain fog gets so bad that I stutter trying to get a word out. Sometimes I feel like I’m playing charades, and trying to have others guess the word I’m trying to produce.”
Being “spaced out” is also common in brain fog. Sharon, a chef with hypothyroidism, shares her experience.
“I will be at work and completely forget how to cook something. It’s not good when you have to move fast. One day, I went to a carwash to wash my car. I scrubbed the car, then hosed it all off. Then I got in my car to drive off. When I drove off the whole back bumper was ripped off the car. I forgot to untangle the hose from the back of my car!”
New says she felt like she had a case of “the dumbs.”
“It was so bad that one day I put the milk beside my bed and my mobile phone in the fridge!”
Tania’s brain fog often showed up when she was driving.
“I frequently found myself sitting at stop signs, waiting for the light to change!”
Christy had just bought a new car when her brain fog hit.
“I left my brand-spankin’-new car running — keys in the ignition and unlocked — and walked into a store. I realized it about 10 minutes later when I couldn’t find my keys. It really scared me!”
Many thyroid patients of all ages added that every episode of brain fog also reinforced their growing fear that their symptoms were early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Optimal thyroid treatment helps brain fog!
The good news about brain fog is that in most cases, it resolves fully or significantly with optimal thyroid treatment for your underactive thyroid. Optimal drug treatment for you may mean:
- A different dose of your current medication
- A change in your brand of thyroid medication
- The addition of T3 to levothyroxine treatment, or
- A switch to natural desiccated thyroid drugs
Optimal treatment may also include supplements, changes to your diet, and other ways to make the most of your thyroid health.
Kaycee had horrible brain fog before she started her thyroid treatment.
“Now, after starting natural desiccated thyroid and going gluten-free, I rarely have brain fog anymore, except when my meds need adjusting, or when I eat a lot of dairy.”
Deborah’s brain fog didn’t improve on levothyroxine treatment.
“I thought I was getting Alzheimer’s. But adding time-released T3 saved my life … and my brain.”
Sandra shares her success story after a medication switch.
“While taking levothyroxine, my brain fog was so severe that during a blood draw, I told the technician I was experiencing ‘fain brog!’ Then I switched from levothyroxine to Armour natural desiccated thyroid, and, no more brain fog!
Andrea describes her brain fog.
“It’s like walking through a dark hallway and not being able to turn the light on to see or open any of the doors to go where you needed to go. After starting Armour, less than two weeks later, the light was on, and I could finally see where I was going!”
Some other brain fog tips
In addition to getting optimal treatment for your hypothyroidism, some other helpful tips for brain fog include:
- Get enough sleep — at least seven to nine hours for most adults with hypothyroidism.
- Manage your stress — Failing to manage your stress increases fatigue and brain fog. Schedule at least a few minutes of active stress reduction —meditation, breathwork, yoga, tai chi, coloring, needlework, etc. — on a daily basis.
- Schedule — Do your most complex tasks at the time of day when your mind is clearest.
- Supplement — Supplements like d-ribose and Vitamin B-1 (thiamine) can increase mental energy and help combat brain fog.
- Iron — Have your iron levels checked and address any deficiencies. (Iron deficiency can contribute to brain fog and mental fatigue.)
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Mary Shomon is a thyroid disease, hormonal and autoimmune health writer, and patient advocate. For two decades, Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered thyroid and hormonal health care. Mary is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Thyroid Diet Revolution,” “Your Healthy Pregnancy with Thyroid Disease,” “Living Well With Hypothyroidism,” and 10 other books on thyroid disease and integrative health. She co-stars in two PBS health specials, “Healthy Hormones,” and “Vibrant for Life.” Follow her on Twitter at @thyroidmary or at her Facebook communities: ThyroidSupport and ThyroidDiet.