Menopause Brain Fog: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Last updated 12.04.2023 | by Dr. Karen Pike | 11 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Brain fog affects an estimated two thirds of menopausal and perimenopausal women. So, if you’re going through menopause and you’re feeling foggy, forgetful, and unfocused, you’re not imagining it. Brain fog is one of the most common and pervasive symptoms of menopause, and it can happen any time during this transitional journey.

But because the symptom is not widely discussed, many women are unaware that their brain fog is linked to menopause. Instead, they worry that their sudden inability to think clearly, function well, and make decisions is a result of early onset dementia or Alzheimer’s. So, knowing the difference between menopause related brain fog and other more serious conditions is essential for women of menopausal age.

I’m fortunate that when I first experienced brain fog during my own menopausal journey, I was already anticipating the symptoms. I’d spent several years intensively researching all aspects of menopause, and I’d met numerous women who had shared details of their own cognitive issues. Plus, I’d delved into the scientific research explaining why brain fog is so common, so I was confident on what was causing my clouded thinking.

Now, I want to make more women aware of the signs and symptoms of menopausal brain fog, and share some strategies and tips that can help. 

So, are you always forgetting your keys, mixing up important dates, and struggling to listen in meetings? Are friends and family starting to notice a change in your cognitive abilities? Rest assured, you’re not alone, and if you’re a woman in your 40s or 50s, menopause is the most likely cause.

In this post, I’ll share some of the most effective treatments and interventions that can improve your cognition. But first, let’s uncover the connection between menopause and brain fog, and explore the causes and symptoms.

What Causes Brain Fog During Menopause?

Like all symptoms of menopause, brain fog is caused by a fluctuation in hormones.

Hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH) are known for regulating the reproductive system. But they also have a big impact on cognition.

So, when these hormones begin to spike and fall during perimenopause, our brain’s ability to function can take a hit.

Brain fog can also be a secondary symptom of other menopausal side effects. For example, some women suffer from increased depression and anxiety during menopause. These conditions can directly impact your ability to concentrate and remember information.

Hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia can also lead to brain fog and make any pre-existing cognitive issues worse.

What Are the Symptoms of Menopause Brain Fog?

The Symptoms of Menopause Brain Fog

The term ‘brain fog’ refers to a wider set of symptoms, which include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty remembering names, birthdays, and appointments
  • A shorter attention span
  • Losing your train of thought mid-way through a sentence
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of motivation

So, if you’re constantly forgetting where you put your keys or your cell phone, or you’re struggling to recall an old school friend’s name, chances are, brain fog could be to blame.

What Treatments Are Available for Menopause Brain Fog?

What Treatments are Available for Menopause Brain Fog

If you’ve noticed brain fog during perimenopause and menopause, you’re probably wondering what you can do to improve your cognitive skills and get back to feeling sharp and alert.

Thankfully, most cases of menopausal brain fog are temporary. Once you enter post-menopause, your symptoms will likely taper off, and eventually, they’ll disappear completely.

However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be searching for a way to boost your brain performance while you’re still going through menopause. Through my research, I’ve discovered several treatments, interventions, and lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce brain fog during menopause, including:

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

HRT, also known as menopausal hormone therapy (MHT), can be an effective treatment for many of the symptoms of menopause, including brain fog. It works by correcting the underlying hormonal imbalance.

Like many of the women I’ve met through my research, I felt considerably sharper, clearer, and more focused while taking HRT. But that’s not the only benefit I noticed. I also saw improvements in the symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings, and my menopause related acne was drastically reduced.

But HRT isn’t for everyone. It comes with a list of potentially serious side effects, including an increased risk of breast cancer, and blood clots. So, it’s important to consult with your doctor before considering this line of treatment. 

A Healthy Diet

Eating a brain-friendly diet can have a big impact on your cognitive ability at any stage of life, but it’s particularly important during menopause.

Brain-friendly foods include:

Polyunsaturated fatty acids. For example, Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s. These can be found in a wide variety of foods, including fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds.

Antioxidants. When the body burns glucose, it creates molecules called free radicals. These molecules have negative effects on many of the brain’s important systems, including the brain. As a result, your brain cells age faster and function less effectively.

Thankfully, antioxidants can help to neutralize free radicals and cancel out much of the damage. Vitamins A, C, and E are all powerful antioxidants, which can be taken as supplements, or through your diet in the following foods:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Blueberries
  • Green tea
  • Artichokes
  • Spinach
  • Red Cabbage
  • Beets
  • Beans

Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body converts into serotonin. Serotonin regulates neurons in the brain, helping them to respond to stimuli. Without enough serotonin, you’re likely to feel depressed and lethargic and exhibit many of the symptoms of brain fog, such as forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.

But by eating a diet rich in tryptophan, you can boost your serotonin levels and improve your cognitive skills. Tryptophan-rich foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Cheese
  • Pineapple
  • Turkey
  • Salmon
  • Nuts and seeds

The foods above all have excellent brain boosting properties, but that’s not the only benefit you can find from eating this type of diet. I noticed that when I began incorporating more of these ingredients into my meal planning, I didn’t just feel sharper in my cognition, I also felt happier and more energetic, and I lost a little weight, too.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is good for your body and your brain.

Research shows that physical activity significantly increases the size of the brain’s hippocampus. Plus, exercise can also promote neuroplasticity, helping your brain to create new pathways and connections, even later in life.

One reason this happens is that during exercise, your heart rate and blood flow are increased. And so, more vital oxygen and nutrients make their way to the brain. This keeps your brain cells healthy and active and also promotes neurogenesis; a process where new neurons are created in the brain.

So, during menopause, I recommend all women stay as active as possible and get the recommended daily dose of exercise. Your body, and your mind, will thank you for it.

Exercise Your Brain

Working out your body is a crucial element to keeping your brain in tip-top condition during menopause. But exercising your mind is equally important in the fight against brain fog.

I enjoy doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and other brain training exercises to help keep my mind sharp. Picking up a new hobby that challenges your brain can also help a lot. Some ideas include learning a new language, picking up a new musical instrument, or reading the classics.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Insomnia is a common complaint during menopause. In fact, almost two-thirds of menopausal women report disturbed sleep.

Hot flashes and night sweats can make it particularly difficult to catch the recommended number of z’s your body needs each night. But getting deep restorative sleep is one of the best things you can do for your cognitive health.

Deep sleep cleanses your brain, removing toxins and impurities, leaving you feeling fresh and ready to face another day.

So, if you’re not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of shut-eye each night, it’s time to take some steps to improve your sleep and keep your brain healthy.

Try cutting out screen time for at least one hour before you go to bed. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and free of distractions. Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. All of these things can help you get a better night’s sleep.

But if improving your sleep hygiene isn’t enough, visit your doctor. They can help to identify any underlying causes for your insomnia and suggest a treatment plan that can help.

FAQs

Q. How long does menopause brain fog last?

Menopause brain fog can be a challenging symptom to live with. But thankfully, it’s usually temporary. Brain fog normally subsides after we reach menopause and our hormones settle down.
According to one study, problems with memory, attention, motor function, and learning are at their peak during the earlier stages of perimenopause. Women in the later stages of menopause scored significantly higher on tests than women at the start of their transition.
So, the further you progress through menopause, the better your cognition will become, and the sharper you’ll feel.
By the time you reach the post-menopausal phase, brain fog usually resolves itself completely.

Q. What are some other potential causes of brain fog during menopause?

Brain fog is one of the most common symptoms of menopause. But cognitive issues related to brain fog aren’t always due to a shift in hormones. Sometimes another underlying condition is contributing to the symptoms.
The early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia may cause clouded thinking that can be mistaken for a simple case of menopausal brain fog.
Depression, anxiety, and certain other mental health disorders can also present similar symptoms.

Q. When should I see a doctor?

If you’re a woman in her 40s or 50s who is feeling a little less sharp than usual, chances are you’re suffering from a simple case of menopause brain fog. But if the symptoms are interfering with your daily life, it’s time to speak to your doctor.
Additionally, if you notice any of the following symptoms, book yourself an appointment with your health care provider straight away. It could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Difficulty finding the right words to describe objects
Getting lost in a familiar place
Repeating yourself without realizing
Decision paralysis
Difficulty performing everyday tasks
Changes in mood or behavior

Conclusion

Brain fog during menopause can affect your ability to do your job. It can also interfere with your relationship with friends and family and lower your self-esteem.

Like many women, I’ve had to fight my own battles with menopause related brain fog, and I understand how tough it can be. 

But thankfully, most cases of menopause-related brain fog are temporary. Once you complete your menopausal transition, your brain will likely return to its usual state, and you’ll feel like yourself again.

In the meantime, there are plenty of things you can do that will keep your brain in the best shape possible, including eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of physical and mental exercise, and striving for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

Menopause-related brain fog is a common symptom and millions of women around the world experience it each year. That being said, some conditions can mimic menopause brain fog. So, if you’re concerned about your cognition, it’s important to speak to your doctor. They can rule out any underlying causes and guide you through a treatment plan that can help.

References:

Author

  • Dr. Karen Pike

    Dr. Pike is a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. She received her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and played collegiate soccer. She attended Georgetown University for medical school and performed her residency in emergency medicine at Stanford University. She was part of the first-ever, women-majority emergency medicine program in United States. Dr. Pike is also the primary medical consultant for “Grey’s Anatomy,” a role she has held since the pilot episode when she partnered with Shonda Rhimes as the show’s original medical consultant. At her hospital, she was the second woman Chief of Staff. Today serves as the Director of the Emergency Department. Whether in leadership or direct patient care, her dedication to excellence in communication, quality, and collaboration is unwavering.