Thinking, Memory And Behavior: How Lupus Affects The Brain

Thinking, Memory and Behavior

In about half of people with lupus, the disease attacks the brain and spinal cord. this disorder can also affect the peripheral nervous system, which is made up of the nerve fibers that give skin and muscles the power for feeling and movement. These developments can be very frightening and frustrating. Thankfully, there are steps a person can take to make things easier. Doctors who specialize in these complications are called “neurologists.”

What is the most common kind of lupus brain involvement?
Many people with lupus—at least one in five—have trouble thinking clearly at some point and experiences memory problems, confusion, fatigue, or difficulty expressing thoughts. Called cognitive dysfunction, the condition likely occurs because blood stops flowing as smoothly to the brain as it should. This also can happen when lupus antibodies cross the “blood-brain barrier,” directly damaging brain cells in areas that store memories and other important information. Cognitive dysfunction may come and go, but often steadily worsens over time.

What is “lupus fog?”
A part of cognitive dysfunction, some people with lupus get spells of “fogginess” when, for several seconds or minutes, they can not get to information that they know is in their heads. They may read the same sentence over and over again, for example. Or struggle with a normally easy task, like balancing a checkbook or dialing a familiar number.

What can be done about cognitive dysfunction and “lupus fogs?”
Reassurance from loved ones helps a lot. So can behavioral counseling, physical or speech therapy, biofeedback, techniques for relaxing the body and mind, and concentration strategies. A lupus diary can be useful to track when fogs happen and what works for dealing with them.

Do other brain problems happen in people with lupus?
Blood flow to the brain feeds brain cells with nutrients (food) and oxygen. Strokes occur when this blood flow is interrupted and brain cells die from the lack of oxygen, causing symptoms such as tingling sensations and problems with vision, speech, and movement (including paralysis). People with lupus have a higher risk for stroke, especially the third or so who have “antiphospholipid antibodies”

Can lupus change emotions and behavior?
Some people with lupus have mild but noticeable changes in behavior such as unusual feelings of fear or lack of fear, or loss of interest or curiosity. More commonly, the fatigue and pain of lupus is draining to the point that a person changes his or her outlook on life.

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