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What Is The Link Between Brain Fog And Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder which mainly affects various joints of the body causing inflammation and pain. The joints commonly affected by rheumatoid arthritis are the joints of the hands, feet, and neck. However, it may also have significant impact on other vital organs of the body like the heart and lungs. Some studies estimate that about 5-50 per 100,000 people are diagnosed with rheumatid arthritis every year. In the United States, there are about 1.5 million people with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.[1, 2, 3]

Rheumatoid Arthritis is caused when the immune system of the body starts producing antibodies that attack the healthy tissues and cells of the joints causing pain and inflammation. Of late some experts have opined that rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the brain. There have been reports of rheumatoid arthritis patients that have complained of forgetfulness, problems with concentrating and staying on tasks. They complain of symptoms that are typical of a Brain Fog.[1, 2, 3]

Brain Fog is not a classified medical condition but physicians have known that certain autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis or lupus can experience problems with cognition. These people complain of decreased ability to think, remember, or perform tasks that require mental ability.[1, 2, 3]

Physicians are not entirely sure whether rheumatoid arthritis causes brain fog but there have been recent researches that point to certain clues revealing that medical conditions that cause chronic inflammation such as that seen with rheumatoid arthritis can cause brain fog.[1, 2, 3] This article highlights the link between rheumatoid arthritis and brain fog.

What Is The Link Between Brain Fog And Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Most people believe that a condition like rheumatoid arthritis is associated with painful joints. However, there are some who state that it is just one of the symptoms that they have among a host of others including problems with cognition. Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation across all the joints of the body especially those of the upper and lower extremities resulting in severe pain, stiffness, and restricted mobility. It is also known that rheumatoid arthritis affects the eyes, heart, lungs, and even the brain.[3]

There have been many cases where people with rheumatoid arthritis have complained of cognitive problems and other symptoms that are seen with brain fog. This has made many researchers believe that there is a link between rheumatoid arthritis and brain fog. A study published in nature Communications from 2018 related how chronic inflammation affects the brain. The study involved use of MRI scans of the brain of about 50 people with rheumatoid arthritis. A close analysis showed that indeed there was a clear change in the patterns of brain connections in people with rheumatoid arthritis.[3]

The scans also showed that there was a decrease in the volume of the gray matter in the inferior parietal lobe in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers believe that these changes are due to the pain, fatigue, and impaired cognition as seen with rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers also believe that alterations in the brain tissues may be contributing to converting inflammation signals to the rest of the nervous system.[3]

Another study with a slightly higher participation of people done in 2013 also revealed a clear link between rheumatoid arthritis and brain fog. The study also revealed that the risk for brain fog was more in people who used corticosteroids for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis or people who had additional risk factors like hypertension and hypercholesterolemia.[3]

Another theory states that the chronic pain and fatigue often acts as a distraction for people and may take their attention away from the work that they are doing creating problems with focusing and concentrating. It also interferes with the quality of sleep causing further fatigue and exhaustion. People who do not get proper sleep often have brain fog. It is common for people with chronic pain conditions to have some degree of depression and anxiety and this is another contributing factor for brain fog.[3]

How To Treat And Prevent Brain Fog Due To Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Now that it is quite clear that brain fog and rheumatoid arthritis are linked it is important to have knowledge of certain steps for preventing brain fog due to rheumatoid arthritis consisting of both medications and certain lifestyle modifications. These steps include[3]

  • Use disease modifying antirheumatic medications.[3]
  • Biologic medications that relieve inflammation and pain.[3]
  • Getting ample amount of sleep[3]
  • Regular exercise[3]
  • Making a detailed calendar of things to do on a daily basis[3]

In conclusion, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the joints and causes chronic pain and inflammation. Brain fog on the other hand occurs when a person finds it difficult to think and remember things clearly. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect various vital organs of the body including the heart, lungs, and even brain.[1, 2, 3]

When rheumatoid arthritis affects the brain, the person starts having symptoms as seen with brain fog. This has also been proved with various studies in which MRI scans were used to look at the brain patters of people with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis does not have a cure and thus it is important to take certain steps to deal with the brain fog that is associated with this condition.[1, 2, 3]

Additionally, experts also believe that the chronic and fatigue that rheumatoid arthritis causes also distracts people from what they are doing and takes their focus away. Therefore, they tend to have problems with focus and concentration resulting in the symptoms of brain fog. Also, people with chronic pain conditions also have some degree of anxiety and depression which also plays a role in people complaining of brain fog associated with rheumatoid arthritis.[1, 2, 3]

Treatment with DMARDs and biologic medications can slow down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Along with this if certain lifestyle changes that have been mentioned above are followed then it beneficial to deal with the brain fog associated with rheumatoid arthritis.[1, 2, 3]


Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 17, 2021

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