A woman with her head in a fog

Brain Fog: It's Real

Last updated: April 2022

I have always considered myself pretty sharp. I have a pretty good memory, sometimes to the point of almost being photographic when it comes to some things I really care about.

However, as I got older, and chronic pain became a daily reality for me, so did brain fog. And from what I can tell, my menstrual cycle often (if not almost always) plays a pretty critical role in my mental clarity.

More specifically, it definitely seems certain times of the month I have more pain than other times, and these flares seem to mainly occur in monthly cycles that at least roughly seem to coincide with menstrual cycles. While this coincidence and impact was clearer to me pre-hysterectomy when I had the telltale signs of when menstruation was occurring to rely on and could time other rises and falls in hormones, it still seems like it is happening even without a uterus.

Mental clarity and my cycle

My mental clarity mostly seemed sharper when I was arriving at and at mid-cycle (when ovulation usually occurs). By contrast, my mind seemed more muddled when it was a few days before and during my period.

This makes sense also just in that this is when the terrible cramping and pain would kick in, and extreme lethargy....that often accompanies both PMS and the periods themselves. The days before your period and when you bleed marks the plummeting of estrogen in your body.

This pretty sudden drop in hormone levels can definitely lead to fatigue, both physical and mental. Yet, I have to say I tended to have spikes of brain fog throughout the months, which I think was associated with being in too much pain generally, which is exhausting.

In the past, this fog can also likely have been at least partially attributed to the fact that I was bleeding so heavily during my periods, I was bleeding out my iron stores as I usually tended to run at least mildly (but often times moderately) anemic. Anemia is also characterized by tiredness and brain fog.

Pain prevents sleep

Being in pain, especially during my period, often interrupted my sleep, or made it difficult to sleep at all, or at least get a restful sleep. When I was still menstruating and on my heaviest days, it was all but impossible to sleep.

Even if I did fall asleep, I often woke up in the late night or very early pre-dawn or just dawn hours, with terrible cramping and feeling like I was sleeping in a puddle of blood. I often had bled through my pad or glad rag and sometimes even through my underwear and pajama pants. Even if I was exhausted, I would have to haul myself out of bed to eat something like a banana or some oatmeal just so I could take ibuprofen (it was the only thing that would curb my cramps but it can't take it on an empty stomach) as well as heat up my heating pad.

Even though this would usually help calm down the cramps, sometimes it would be hard to fall asleep again. Or if I did fall asleep, it would be fitfully, and ultimately, the interruption would make me feel groggy the next day.

At least now that I have had a hysterectomy, that is no longer an issue. Still, I do occasionally wake up with abdominal cramps and pain I think are associated with lingering endo and PMS-type flares from hormones.

Medications and brain fog

Finally, some medications they put me on for pain in the past, like Gabapentin and Lyrica, made my brain fog worse, so I had to get off them quickly because it got to the point where I felt like I wasn't even very coherent. I know these medications can be very helpful for some people, and so this isn't a criticism of that, but they didn't work for me.

I hope with more exercise, sleep, and other tweaks in my daily routine, this all can improve and stints of brain fog will be shorter-lived and rarer.

Do you suffer from brain fog? What have you done to help it? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below!

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