Many women diagnosed with breast cancer express anxiety, humor, and even fustration regarding the new mental fog that they start having during or following following cancer treatment. This is called chemo brain, a term that is used to describe the cloudiness that many feel. But what exactly is chemo brain, and what can you do about it? Here’s what you need to know.

What is chemo brain?

Simply put, and according to cancer.gov, chemo brain is used to describe a delay in cognitive functioning and memory problems that some patients with cancer may have before, during, or after their cancer treatments. It can describe how you feel physically and mentally when you’re feeling sluggish, fatigued, or “slower” than normal.

What causes chemo brain?

Unfortunately, there is no direct cause — chemotherapy is most frequently associated with chemo brain, though. However, it may also be related to other therapies like radiation, hormone therapy, and surgery. These may result in cognitive issues or delayed mental changes.

Certain factors, such as the cancer itself, medications taken during treatment, and pre-existing conditions or illnesses, can raise your risk of developing chemo brain or exacerbating problems with brain function.

These symptoms are more common in older adults, those with mental health conditions such as depression, and those who have recently had surgery or an infection. Additionally, abusing alcohol or drugs can alter your mental health during treatment. These could result in temporary issues that go away or are treated as the underlying issue does. Others might be more long-lasting.

How long can it last?

This depends on each individual person. For some, chemobrain goes away a few days, months, or years after treatment is completed. For others, it can be lifelong or even last for years after treatment. It’s important to talk to your doctors if your symptoms don’t seem to ease after treatment is finished.

Symptoms and Causes

Let’s talk about what can cause these issues and some symptoms you should be aware of.

First, while there is no one specific cause, a few causes include therapy treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Other potential reasons may include insomnia, anemia, hormonal imbalances, and even anxiety or depression.

Some common symptoms of chemo brain include not being able to keep up with a conversation, no longer being able to multitask, having “brain fog,” including trouble waking up, feeling fatigued, and even feeling clumsy. You may have one or all of these symptoms, and there are less common symptoms too, so always reach out to your doctor if you feel like you’re experiencing any of these.

Chemo Brain Treatments

While there aren’t any approved medical treatments as of yet for chemo brain, there are lots of things you can do naturally!

You can practice memory-enhancing and cognitive-strengthening exercises. This includes memory games, therapy, and puzzles like sudoku. Exercise can be an extremely effective kind of treatment. Experts recommend aerobic exercise for at least half an hour each day.

Of course, getting enough sleep is also crucial. Sleep is essential for brain health and can be disrupted by cancer and cancer treatments. Not getting enough can make problems like brain fog worse. Other natural remedies for chemo brain include a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, practicing stress management techniques, and consuming antioxidants and vitamin D.

Living with Chemo Brain

Outside of trying to be as healthy as possible while dealing with cancer treatments, there are other ways to make living with chemo brain easier. These include:

  • Avoid multitasking.
  • Using a calendar or app to write down appointments and reminders.
  • Leaving important items in a specific spot every time (ie. leaving your keys and phone right on your nightstand every night).
  • Make lists, including to-do lists and shopping lists.
  • Bringing a friend or family to appointments so they can help you remember everything.
  • Getting copies of all tests, appointments, and lab work so you have your own records.
  • Using a kitchen timer or sticky notes to stay on tasks.
  • Setting daily routines to make it easy to get ready for the day or for bedtime.
  • Taking regular breaks to help with your focus.
  • Having fun, because being stressed out makes it all worse!

FAQs

Can I prevent chemo brain/fog?

No, no one can 100% say that they can prevent brain fog. However, there are ways to make the symptoms less noticeable if you do get it, like eating a balanced diet and getting enough rest.

Is it easy to manage? How do I do that?

This will depend on each person individually. Some people can handle the fog better than others, just like some have it longer or at a higher concentration. The best way to learn to manage your chemo brain is to talk to your doctors and listen to them and what your body needs.

Does chemo brain ever go away?

It can! Again, this depends on your body, your specific cancer type, your treatment plan, and so much more. But many patients notice a significant increase in cognitive functioning after treatment has been completed, and after a few years most are able to get back to pre-brain fog days.

Does chemo permanently affect your brain?

Yes and no. While chemotherapy can cause some long-term side effects, like hearing loss or risk of stroke, this doesn’t mean that everyone who ever gets treatment will have their brain permanently altered. Many people are able to see improvement in their brain function in as little as a few days or weeks after they wrap up treatment.

What percentage of chemo patients get chemo brain?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of chemo brain appear in 25–30% of patients prior to beginning cancer treatment. About 75% of cancer patients in total report to their doctors that they have memory, concentration, and task-completion difficulties.

Conclusion

As you can see, chemo brain is a complicated topic. While it can seem confusing when you first start seeing symptoms, it’s important to know that you’re not alone, and it’s normal for many people to experience it. Of course, if things get too out of hand, you can talk to the experts to help you navigate your symptoms and come up with a treatment plan. And of course, don’t be afraid to try out some of our tips and tricks to make it easier when dealing with the fog!

 

*The information provided on this website is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Reliance on any information provided by this website is solely at your own risk. The owners, contributors, authors, and publishers of this website are not liable for any losses, injuries, or damages arising from the use of the information on this website.*

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