What is Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog?

Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog is the state of brain usually present in patients who have survived cancer. They may undergo brain mal functions like memory problems, thinking disability etc. after the cancer treatment. Chemo brain is also called chemo fog due to its relation with cognitive dysfunction or cognitive impairment.
Chemotherapy is not the prime reason behind brain malfunctions in cancer patients. Yet the name has been "Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog" used by many for a long time now.

Chemo Brain

Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog is however the result of the frustrating phase of cancer treatment and the painful events attached to it. Let us study in detail about this condition to know more about the chemo brain or chemo fog.

What Causes Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog?

It is not clear what causes the signs, symptoms of chemo brain or chemo fog in cancer survivors. The reasons behind such syndromes of chemo brain or chemo fog are not clear to medical professionals or oncologists. The reasons however are the various treatments of cancer:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Hormone therapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Radiation therapy.

Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog due to Complications in Treatment of Cancer

Chemo brain or chemo fog can be caused due to the following factors:

  • Lack of red blood corpuscles or Anemia
  • Tiredness due to the stormy medical procedures
  • Contamination
  • Menopause due to abnormal changes in hormone
  • Nutritional shortage
  • Sleep disorder or insomnia.

Patients also tend to get emotionally low due to the life risk involved in cancer. This generates in them the following:

  • Nervousness and
  • Despondency.

Other causes of chemo brain or chemo fog in cancer patients:

  • Internal fear of growing symptoms of chemo brain or chemo fog.
  • Pain of medical procedures and the high dose of medicines causing several side effects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog?

The multiple signs and symptoms of chemo brain or chemo fog are:

  • A disorganized functionality of brain
  • Uncertainty or confusion
  • Lack of focus or concentration
  • Problem in ascertaining the right words to describe anything
  • Problem in learning anything new
  • Zero multi-tasking ability
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling low mentally
  • Shorter attention span
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Fatigue in same old routine and a feeling of depression in life
  • Problem of recalling certain incidents, names or figures during conversations
  • Problem in recalling moments spend earlier.

What are the Risk Factors for Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog?

The risk factors related to the chemo brain or chemo fog are:

  • Chances of developing brain cancer.
  • Chemotherapy affecting the central nervous system.
  • Chemotherapy when applied with brain radiation.
  • Chemotherapy or radiation causing side effects due to high dose required at a certain stage.
  • Radiation to the brain directly.
  • Cancer diagnosis and treatment at a young age.

What are the Complications for Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog?

The complications of chemo brain or chemo fog on cancer survivors are different in different individuals. Some people are strong enough to get back to normal life and join work. But for some it is challenging to cope up with the world anymore and they restrict themselves to home.

If you find difficulty in remembering past events or memories, current things, consult your oncologist immediately. He can guide you best on how to cope up with this problem. He may even ask you to make adjustments with your current job and choose something easier.

In very rare cases, cancer patients have found to have lost ability over the brain completely. They can register themselves for the particular disability referral and seek help of social workers on oncology.

What Tests are Conducted to Diagnose Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog?

There is no clear definition of chemo brain or chemo fog, so no tests exist to diagnose this condition. Cancer survivors who experience these symptoms often score in normal ranges on memory tests.

You may be suggested for some tests i.e. blood test, CT scan or some other tests to investigate the root causes of memory troubles. In case doctor is unable to found out the major root for the symptoms you are feeling, you may be referred by your doctor to any specialist who is best to cure memory related problems.

Memory tests of cancer patients after severe sessions of chemotherapy or radiation may detect the syndromes of chemo brain or chemo fog. However there is no specified test for chemo brain or chemo fog.

How is Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog Treated?

How Long Does Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog Last?

Neither the cause nor the cure for chemo brain or chemo fog has been yet detected. Since these symptoms usually do not stay for long and hence doctors emphasize more on temporary adjustments to these symptoms.

There is no fixed program to treat the chemo brain or chemo fog in cancer patients. The symptoms vary from patient to patient and doctors have customized solution for each one of them.

Getting Hold Over the Other Reasons of Memory Issues

Treatment of cancer is a serious procedure and it can cause other ailments like depression, anemia, early menopause or sleeping disorder. These things have to be controlled with care to somehow rescue the patient from the severity of memory loss or other memory related problems.

Adjusting to the Phase of Memory Problems

Specialized neuropsychologist can be helpful in coping with symptoms of chemo brain or chemo fog. Cognitive remediation or rehabilitation is recommended by doctors many a time in such situation.

  • Adapt yourself to the changes and try the following:
  • Brain exercise to increase the capability of the brain
  • Organizing you for a better. Make calendars your best friend and plan your weeks. Set alerts in cell phones or other devices for important tasks. Ask your friends to remind you of certain things.
  • Learn to cope up with this situation rather than feeling completely low about it. Take it as just a temporary phase of illness and put your efforts to deal with it. Talk to professional therapists for more help.
  • Adopt several stress releasing techniques and get rid of the negativity. Relax and stay calm in the situation. Depression can only add on to the complications which may create hazard in the actual treatment process.

Medications for Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog

There is no certain medication from recovery from chemo brain or chemo fog. However the followings are usually prescribed by oncologists for some help:

  • Methylphenidate or Concerta or Ritalin: These are attention curing drugs for attention deficiency or hyperactivity disorder in cancer patients.
  • Donepezil or Aricept: This drug used particularly for Alzheimer's disease.
  • Provigil or Modafinil: This drug cures problems related to sleep.

These drugs are only to fight the complexities of the adjacent symptoms of chemo brain or chemo fog but do not cure it directly.

What are the Recommended Lifestyle Changes for Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog?

Try the following lifestyle changes to ease the symptoms of chemo brain or chemo fog:

  • Try crossword puzzles or other riddles for brain exercise. Generate this hobby to increase the stability of your brain.
  • Try to find a place of work and living which is comfortable for you. If you do not like much of a noise after the cancer treatment, find yourself a place which is calm and you find peace in it.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat healthy and sleep a lot. Take as much rest as you can. Talk to people who are important to you. Do not get in to unnecessary conversations with people who are not supporting or meaningful to you at this point of time.
  • Use digital calendars to organize your works. Track a routine for yourself and plan your day and even week in advance. Prioritize your work and put efforts to things you find important.
  • Keep yourself away from any distractions. Make sure you do not waste your time with people you do not want to ever meet in future. These people can be ultimately harmful to you as they break the moral in you.
  • Divert your mind in to things of your likings. Take small breaks in the middle of the work just to avoid a burden. Continue with your work again after the break for an ease.
  • Continue with physical exercise as well. This has to be as per the advice of your oncologist. He can guide you best on which exercise to take up during this period to not to hamper your ongoing treatment.

Are there any Alternative Medicines for Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog?

There is no alternate ways of medication in chemo brain or chemo fog. Since this is a temporary phase in cancer patients, there has been no detailed research on this. Doctors usually guide the patients mentally to adjust to the new life. The phase of medication is no doubt severe and risky. There are several ways however to cope up with the seriousness of the symptoms of chemo brain or chemo fog. These are:

  • Ginkgo Supplements: Ginkgo supplements are used normally for people in the old age as they grow tendencies of memory loss. This can be used in case of cancer patients as well in case of chemo brain or chemo fog. It is absolutely safe and natural. However a medical advice should be taken on it as it may hamper the ongoing process of medication. Consult your doctors and ask him for a permission to use this for a better memory.
  • Vitamin E: Brain cells are greatly nourished by Vitamin E intake this vitamin naturally or in supplements to increase the ability of your brain. Talk to your oncologist to ensure it does not hamper the medicines you are taking regularly.

How to Cope With Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog?

Cancer treatment is a frustrating phase for the patients. The continuous risk of life and the painful therapies break them both physically and mentally. Chemo brain or chemo fog can be even more frustrating as an addition to the existing complications. Try to adjust yourself as much possible to the undergoing changes. Certain ways to cope the condition of chemo brain or chemo fog are:

  • Understand the problem you are facing and think more about it. You can be trying your best to track a control over the issues but still fail sometimes. Boost yourself up every time you fail. Do not get distracted to people who are negative or unsupportive.
  • Relax more than before. Stop thinking over issues you can do nothing about. It is at all not wise to burn your energy to something which you cannot handle. Meditate, listen to music or take up alternative stress relief therapies to distress yourself. Take up old hobbies once over again and send quality time with your family.
  • Do not feel embarrassed of your situation. This temporary phase is due to your illness and this can happen to anyone. Seek help of your family and friends. Ask them to alert you on things you cannot afford to miss. Gradually this would develop a habit and you will find ease to cope up with the situation.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: October 27, 2015

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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