Coping with the Brain Fog of Hepatitis C
While all of us can probably relate to temporary brain fog or forgetfulness at times, if you have the hepatitis C virus (HCV), you might have experienced difficulty concentrating, suffered from memory loss, have had trouble retaining information, or had other cognitive problems. These are all common symptoms that accompany the disease.
Approximately 3.2 million people in the U.S. are chronically infected with hepatitis C, and about 50 percent of patients with hepatitis C complain about these “brain fog” symptoms. While researchers aren’t entirely clear on the cause, they believe the cognitive issues are a direct effect of HCV on the brain or the neurotoxic effect of HCV-related inflammation. If you suffer from hepatitis C-induced brain fog, there are lifestyle changes and habits you can do to improve your memory, concentration, and manage your life as seamlessly as possible. Try these tips to stay sharp:
Talk to your doctor. It’s important to rule out a more serious health problem that could be causing your brain fog—like depression, chronic pain, diabetes, thyroid disease, or other medical conditions. So if you feel “out of it” and “confused” often, make an appointment with your doctor to determine whether it’s a side effect of hepatitis C or possibly something else.
Exercise regularly. While exercise is great for your physical health, it boosts your mental health as well. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, may help replicate brain cells, and can prevent plaque from building up in blood vessels.
Get quality sleep. Fatigue can contribute to brain fuzziness and memory problems. Aim for seven to nine hours a night. If you’re getting nine hours a night and you still wake up feeling tired, you may be suffering from sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, or something else. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned that something is preventing you from getting adequate sleep.
Manage stress. Living with hepatitis C can certainly be stressful, on top of all the other demands the average healthy person balances on a daily basis. Stress can affect your mental acuity and might be the reason you can’t focus. Consider starting a meditation practice or learning relaxation techniques to quiet your mind and breathe away stress (your brain needs oxygen!). A regular meditation practice can also help you think more clearly and focus on one thing at a time.
Eat a healthy diet. Reduce your alcohol intake, make sure you’re drinking a lot of water throughout the day, and eat well-balanced meals with plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Make sure you’re eating at regular mealtimes, too—skipping meals can make it hard for you to concentrate, focus, and keep your mood and energy stable.
Designate a location for commonly misplaced items. Place your keys in the same place in your home, work bag, and in your office. Put your cell phone in a specific location as often as possible. Sort your mail when it comes in and organize it in a mail bin according to action items you need to deal with right away—like paying bills—and place circulars, coupons, and papers you can tackle at a later date.
Do brain games. Challenge your brain with puzzles, brain games, word games, and math games on a daily or weekly basis.
Try visualization techniques to remember things. When you park your car in a lot, look around for a building or sign to search for later, or put the floor number or a letter and number of your section into your phone.
Use tools, calendars and journals to remind you of important tasks and dates. Write down lists and appointments where you can see them, then schedule them into your work calendar and phone calendar so you won’t miss anything. If you’re taking pills, make sure you put them where you can see them, set a reminder for when you’re taking them, and take your medications at the same time every day.
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- Fransicius, Alan. HCSP Fact Sheet: Brain Fog. HCV Wellness. http://hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/Brain_Fog.pdf
- Hepatitis C Information for Health Professionals. Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/
- Marco Senzolo, et. A. Neuropsychological alterations in hepatitis C infection: The role of inflammation. World J Gastroenterol. 2011 Aug 7;17(29):3369-74. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3160562/
- Hepatitis C. Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000284.htm
- Living with Hepatitis C: Managing Common Symptoms. Hep C Handbook: A Resource for Georgians. https://dph.georgia.gov/sites/dph.georgia.gov/files/related_files/site_page/AcuteEpi_hepatitis_c_han...