Can Lupus Affect My Brain?
YES. In some people, lupus can make it hard to think clearly or remember things well. It can even change a person's behavior. Because these "invisible" symptoms tend to come and go, it can be very hard to tell if they are caused by lupus or by other problems. Friends, family, and co-workers also may have a hard time understanding what is happening.
How Can I Tell?
It may surprise people to learn that lupus affects the brain. Talk to your doctor about the following signs and symptoms of brain involvement: headaches; dizziness; seizures; stroke; problems with memory; problems with vision; depression (deep sadness, hopelessness, loss of pleasure); mania; schizophrenia; and psychosis (delusions, paranoia, hallucinations).
In addition to a physical exam and doctor's consultation, multiple lab tests may be needed to figure out what is going on. Other possible causes of brain changes, such as infections, drugs and non-lupus disorders, need to be considered too.
Is It Common?
Half of people with lupus suffer from cognitive dysfunction. Signs of this are confusion, problems concentrating or remembering things, and trouble sharing thoughts.
One out of five people with lupus have headaches, dizziness, memory loss, stroke, or mood swings that result from changes in the brain or spinal cord. These people have central nervous system lupus.
Many people with lupus suffer from severe headaches.
Nearly 1 in 10 people with lupus develop blood clots as a result of the antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), which can lead to stroke. Other serious problems include seizures, coma, inflammation of the spinal cord or brain's blood vessels, and paralysis.
How Is It Treated and What Can I Do?
The effect lupus has on the brain can range from small to severely damaging. A doctor can recommend a combination of treatments that include anti-inflammatory and anti-malarial medicines, blood thinners, drugs to ease tiredness and depression, and counseling.
Often the symptoms of lupus in the brain cannot be seen or felt by others. This can be very frustrating both for you and for them. Let friends and family know how much emotional support and encouragement helps at these times.
Are there any tricks for dealing with "brain fog?"
The term "brain fog" describes those times when you can't think clearly or don't even know where you are or what you are doing. It's a common problem for people with lupus, but there are tricks called memory aids that can keep you on task. You can probably come up with your own ways in addition to the following examples:
- Label drawers, cabinets and closets around your house to make it easier to find things once you've put them away.
- Place post-it-notes with reminders in places you'll be sure to see them, such as by your door and in your car.
- Organize and simplify your home and workspace and keep a schedule of events and appointments nearby.
- Set your watch's alarm clock for when you need to take your medications.
- Leave reminder messages for yourself on your cell phone's voice recorder or home answering machine.
- Finally, when you feel brain fog coming on, try to take deep breaths and relax—knowing that it has come and gone many times before.