Friday, 11 July 2014

Taking Control Part 7: Dr Sherise Ali: Brain Fog Sjogren's 2014

Brain Fog in Sjogren's Syndrome is a topic that quickly found an audience at the National Sjogren's Conference in Canada this year. This topic was addressed by Dr Sherise Ali this year. She is a neuropsychiatrist and has recently written a chapter on psychiatric care of the rheumatologic patient for the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital textbook of Psychiatry of the Medically Ill.

Brain fog is defined as "a generalized dysfunction of concentration, short-term memory and cognitive speed which is disruptive to the patient's lifestyle and not attributable to another cause."  There is no specific pattern and there can be ripple effects in your life. Compared to traumatic brain injury brain fog is mild. Your IQ is not decreased but you may need to find alternate routes to get to the same endpoint.

It is disruptive to the way you feel about yourself when your cognitive speed is slower that it used to be but Dr Ali said it should have no dramatic effect on your function.

Brain Fog by Annette McKinnon

Pain also has a deleterious effect on brain fatigue. So far brain fog is not consistently found to be associated with Anti-Ro or Anti-La antibodies and no one antibody has been isolated that is consistently associated with or specific for CNS (Central Nervous System) symptoms.

In 50% of patients who undergo an MRI for diagnosis the findings are normal, showing the limited role of MRI in this diagnosis. The most effective way to diagnose brain fog is neuropsychological testing. Dr Ali said that this symptom has an insidious onset, is non-progressive, not necessarily associated with severity of illness and can occur at any time. 

Brain fog is becoming more and more recognized as a symptom of CNS involvement in Sjogren's Syndrome. The most likely mechanism is inflammation of the cerebral vasculature. 

Dr. Sherise Ali speaking at the National Sjogren's Conference

Taking control of this symptom is not easy, but it is very possible. Dr Ali gave us these conclusions as well as some strategies to support our brains.

  • Play an active role in your medical management - inform your   doctor of OTC or herbal remedies and take your agreed on    medications.
  • Talk to your doctor and ensure there is no other medical cause
  • Use behavioural strategies to circumvent cognitive issues
  • Keep socially, physically and mentally active
  • Practice good sleep and dietary habits
  • Prevent, recognize and manage clinical Depression and Anxiety
  • Use adaptive coping mechanisms
  • Minimize stress, anxiety
  • Seek positive relationships
  • Join a support group
  • Seek counselling for complicated emotions
  • Seek treatment for suspected depression and other psychiatric conditions
  • Allow yourself to feel sad sometimes, it is a normal emotion


Learn a new language
Brain training, games, puzzles
Physical activity (to increase blood flow to the brain)
Pace yourself
Engage in creative activity
Good sleep is important. Can try a pre-bed ritual.
Seek positive relationships
Manage negative emotions
Identify your stressors and work on them
Seek treatment/professional help and/or a counsellor
Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help
Acceptance as a method of easing frustration was suggested. 

Watchwords from Dr. Ali :

"Use it or lose it."
"You don't want to lose synapses."

Advice on circumventing cognitive issues with behavioural strategies:

Make lists of things you want to do each day. Jot things down as they occur to you.
Keep pencil and paper handy near the phone.
Take notes at work, especially if you are learning a new task - take notes on all steps involved.


  1. I can add one more to the list - stay cool! I'm finding that I don't work as well in the heat! Bring on the cooling rain, please!

  2. Thanks for adding another one. We're almost luxuriating in the cooler days we are having just now. Low 20s but with lots of sunshine.