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Brain Fog - Blood Flow and the Upper Neck

Posted in Head Pain Disorders on Mar 21, 2021

“Brain fog” is a common description where people find they are unable to concentrate or experience troubles with short-term memory and even have difficulty.

What makes brain fog even more challenging is that there is no official diagnosis of “brain fog,” and the mechanisms behind it are just as puzzling.

Recent studies are beginning to examine the role of blood flow to the brain, and also the role of the nerve system in the development of brain fog syndrome.

One study actually found that brain fog was a common symptom in people who experienced vestibular migraines or dizziness.

The research team also found that brain fog is not commonly reported in people with vertigo, which would seem to suggest that the underlying cause of brain fog syndrome may share some of the same characterises as the underlying cause of migraine headaches.

Another research study on people with postural orthostatic hypotension syndrome (POTS, which is neurally mediated low blood pressure that causes dizziness and autonomic problems most pronounced when people are standing upright) found that brain fog could be triggered by having people partake in mentally demanding tasks, In other words, it may be insufficient blood flow to the brain to meets its demands that are responsible for brain fog syndrome.

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It is still a mystery why brain fog syndrome occurs commonly in some people experiencing post-viral fatigue, which has been reported in people recovering from the Covid-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2.

One hypothesis is that the virus, which may trigger systemic inflammation creates a state of hypoxia that negatively affects the cerebral blood vessels and thereby produces symptoms of brain fog. 

It is also still a mystery why other studies that look directly at the blood vessels in the neck cannot detect macro obstructions with blood flow in the brain that could lead to brain fog syndrome.

However, there may be another possibility that disruptions in blood flow are not pathological like bleeding or a tutor, but that they are neurally mediated by disruptions of the sympathetic nervous system.

 

The Sympathetic Nerves and Brain Fog syndrome

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The sympathetic nerve system is an autonomic division of the brain and spinal cord that is responsible for the “fight or flight” responses in the body that activate in times of stress.

Among its many functions, the sympathetic nerve system is essential in regulating the activity of the immune system. As it potentially relates to brain fog syndrome, sympathetic nerves are also responsible for the construction or dilation of every blood vessel in the human body.

 

If you have ever seen a picture of the human body with the skin and muscles removed with only the blood vessels showing, every blood vessel also contains a sympathetic nerve that controls how well blood is able to move through it.

During times of increased stress and increased sympathetic activity, blood vessels are constricted in order to preserve blood flow to the large muscles of the body that are necessary for the “fight or flight” survival movements. 

However, the problem may be that as a consequence of acute or chronic stress the sympathetic nerve system remains over-active, it may produce excessive constriction of blood flow to the essential parts of the body, including the brain. The consequence may well be brain-fog syndrome.

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The Role of the Upper Neck in Brain Fog Syndrome

The cluster of sympathetic nerve fibers that accompany the blood vessels to the head is located along the front of the neck, just in front of the C1-C3 vertebrae. 

Like a pebble in your shoe, if the position of this vertebra should be affected where they are producing tension or irritation to this cluster of sympathetic nerves, it may have the potential to affect blood flow to the brain and therefore produce the symptoms of brain fog.

In fact, other research into cevicogenic dizziness has identified a link whereby the position of the vertebrae in the neck can affect the sympathetic nerves and produces symptoms of dizziness, but not vertigo. … And what did the recent research study find? An associating between dizziness and brain fog syndrome, bit not vertigo.

In other words, there might well be a connection!

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In addition, the pair of vertebral arteries, which supply one-third of the blood to the brain transmit through the vertebrae in the neck from C6-C1. Of particular importance is the course of the arteries, which make sharp turns as they pass through the C2 and C2 vertebrae at the top of your neck and may be subject to additional pressures if there is a mechanical stress problem in that area. 

 

What to do if you have Brain Fog Syndrome

Brain Fog syndrome can be an especially frightening condition because it can feel like you are losing your mind or suffering from dementia. It can also affect people of all ages, including teenagers!

So what do you do?

Of course, it is important first and foremost to rule of dangerous or scary things such as brain tumors, infections, bleeding, etc with an MRI scan.

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Also, if you have noticed a link between a recent (or even old) viral infection, it may be important to work with a specific naturopath or integrative medicine doctor or specialist to help reduce inflammation in your body and restore normal blood flow and sympathetic nerve function.

But in addition, it may also be a wise idea to check if there is anything wrong mechanically with your neck that could be affecting the function of your nerve system or blood flow to your brain.

Here is where an upper cervical-specific chiropractor may be of value, which is what we offer here at Atlas Health Australia.

An upper cervical practitioner is a chiropractic doctor who focuses on the alignment of the C1, C2, and C3 vertebrae in your neck, and how they may affect the health of your entire body, including brain fog syndrome.

Unlike general spinal manipulation or exercise therapy, there is no stretching, twisting, or cracking the neck. Instead, an upper cervical chiropractor performs a series of physical, neurological, and advanced imaging tests, which may include x-rays if necessary, in order to determine the exact location, direction, and degree of any misalignments between the vertebrae in your upper neck.

If so, they will recommend a course of care to help restore that alignment for the purpose of allowing your body to function the way that it is designed so that it is able to heal on its own.

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Brain Fog Syndrome & Upper Cervical Care

We hope this article has been informative and valuable. The take-home message is simple:

Disruptions with blood flow - or the control of blood flow that comes from your sympathetic nerve system - may be affected by the alignment of your upper neck.

Indeed, there may be many potential reasons why people experience brain fog syndrome, which is why it is important to have your condition assessed in person by a medical specialist or healthcare practitioner who may be able to help.

If you or a loved one are experiencing what you can only describe as “brain fog,” we would like to hear from you.

Our practice, Atlas Health, located in North Lakes (north Brisbane) is dedicated to helping people with chronic health conditions, frequently including people who experience brain fog, in order to help them find long-term solutions so that they can enjoy the quality of life that they desire most.

Dr. Jeffrey Hannah is an advanced certified Blair upper cervical chiropractor with over 14 years of clinical experience. He is an international lecturer, published author, and recognised leader in the field of upper cervical specific chiropractic care.

If you would like to find out if Blair upper cervical care may be right for you, we are pleased to offer a complementary 15-minute phone consultation with Dr. Hannah so that you can discuss your individual needs.

To reach our practice, click the Contact Us link on this page, or call us direct at 07 3188 9329.

Atlas Health Australia - “Hope, healing, and wellbeing from above-down, inside-out.”

 

References

Chari DA, Liu YH, Chung JJ, Rauch SD. Subjective Cognitive Symptoms and Dizziness Handicap Inventory (DHI) Performance in Patients With Vestibular Migraine and Menière's Disease. Otol Neurotol. 2021 Feb 18. doi: 10.1097/MAO.0000000000003081. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33606474. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33606474/ 

Hulens M, Rasschaert R, Vansant G, et al. The link between idiopathic intracranial hypertension, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome: exploration of a shared pathophysiology. J Pain Res. 2018 Dec 10;11:3129-3140. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S186878. eCollection 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30573989

vKenney MJ, Ganta CK. Autonomic nervous system and immune system interactions. Compr Physiol. 2014;4(3):1177-1200. doi:10.1002/cphy.c130051. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4374437/

Østergaard L. SARS CoV-2 related microvascular damage and symptoms during and after COVID-19: Consequences of capillary transit-time changes, tissue hypoxia, and inflammation. Physiol Rep. 2021 Feb;9(3):e14726. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14726. PMID: 33523608; PMCID: PMC7849453.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33523608/

Ravn JH, Fuglsang R, Højland C, Hauvik M. The effect of the sympathetic nervous system on proprioception of the neck. Aalborg University. Project supervised by Deborah Falla and Shellie Boudreau. 2009. Date of submission: 1/5/2010. http://vbn.aau.dk/files/19025476/Projekt_3.0_F_RDIG.pdf

Wells R, Malik V, Brooks AG, Linz D, Elliott AD, Sanders P, Page A, Baumert M, Lau DH. Cerebral Blood Flow and Cognitive Performance in Postural Tachycardia Syndrome: Insights from Sustained Cognitive Stress Test. J Am Heart Assoc. 2020 Dec 15;9(24):e017861. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.120.017861. Epub 2020 Dec 5. PMID: 33280488. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33280488/

Zoccal DB, Furuya WI, Bassi M, Colombari DSA, Colombari E. The nucleus of the solitary tract and the coordination of respiratory and sympathetic activities. Frontiers in Physiology. 2014;5:238. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00238.

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