What to Know About Migraine Brain Fog

Medically Reviewed By Deena Kuruvilla, MD

When experiencing a migraine episode, you may feel like you’re not thinking or talking as clearly as you usually would. You may also have trouble remembering things. This is often referred to as “brain fog,” a temporary cognitive impairment that can occur with a migraine attack. A migraine attack may occur in as many as four phases. Your “brain fog” may be worse during some parts of an episode than others.

This article explains the signs and symptoms of migraine brain fog and how it may manifest before, during, and after a migraine episode.

Signs and symptoms of brain fog

A woman sitting at a desk and holding her fingertips to her temples
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If you experience “brain fog” during a migraine episode, you may:

  • feel confused
  • have difficulty learning or remembering
  • have difficulty paying attention
  • have trouble speaking or reading

These signs and symptoms are temporary, and researchers have not found any evidence to suggest that they lead to a higher risk for long-term cognitive decline.

Brain fog may be worse during some parts of a migraine attack than others. Migraine attacks can occur Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in four phases, though not everyone experiences all of them.

Prodrome phase

Up to 2 days Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source before a migraine episode starts, you may have cognitive signs and symptoms during what is called the prodrome phase. You may experience mood changes, trouble concentrating, or difficulty reading or speaking.

Learn more about symptoms you may experience during the prodrome phase.

Aura phase

The aura phase of a migraine episode can cause visual or other sensory disturbances in addition to brain fog. According to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF), this phase often lasts a few minutes to an hour and includes seeing flashing lights or dots, having blind spots, or being hypersensitive to smells and sounds.

During the aura phase, you may also feel confused, weak, or dizzy, or have trouble speaking. This could also be called “brain fog.”

Many people will develop throbbing pain afterward, though it’s possible to have the aura and not develop the headache.

Learn more about migraine aura symptoms.

Headache phase

The headache phase of a migraine attack is characterized by pulsing or throbbing pain, usually on one side of your head.

A 2018 review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of several studies found that cognitive symptoms were often reported during the headache phase, including:

  • reasoning or cognitive processing difficulties
  • impaired ability to pay attention
  • difficulty talking or the inability to talk
  • reading or writing difficulties

This phase can last anywhere from hours to days Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source and may involve other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

Learn more about the difference between headache and migraine.

Postdrome phase

In the phase following a migraine episode, which is called the postdrome phase, you may feel exhausted and irritable. Some people describe it as feeling “wiped out” or “hung over.” You may also continue to feel confused or have difficulty concentrating.

It may be difficult to function well for a little while after a migraine. However, the symptoms should disappear within a day or so, and your brain fog should lift.

Learn more about how long a migraine episode can last.

Managing migraine brain fog

It may be possible to prevent or lessen the severity of migraine brain fog. According to the AMF, taking medications or engaging in other therapies, such as avoiding triggers, may stop the progression of the migraine episode and relieve symptoms.

For people who experience migraine attacks, there are two main types Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of treatments available:

  • Acute treatment: Also called abortive treatment, this involves taking steps to halt migraine progression once it has begun. Your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescription medications such as triptans, or procedures such as transcutaneous supraorbital nerve stimulation.
  • Preventive treatment: Certain treatments may help reduce the frequency of migraine episodes. This may involve taking medications such as beta-blockers or antidepressants and avoiding triggers whenever possible.

Learn more about migraine prevention and treatment.

Summary

The term “brain fog” refers to cognitive impairment that can occur during a migraine attack. Some people may experience difficulty reading, speaking, thinking, or concentrating.

The earlier you can recognize the onset of a migraine, the better. Early treatment may shorten the duration of the episode and get you back to being pain-free and thinking clearly.

If you are experiencing severe headaches, whether or not you have “brain fog” along with them, talk with your doctor. They can help you develop a treatment plan.

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Medical Reviewer: Deena Kuruvilla, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 May 15
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