Chronic low oxygen levels, sleep-related breathing disorders, lack of proper circulation, and gas exchange impairment are all factors that have contributed to the neurological consequences that have been more prominent in my life recently. Pulmonary hypertension affects more than just the heart and lungs. After recent neurocognitive testing, doctors confirmed that low oxygen and a buildup of CO2 have affected my brain and neurocognitive function. I frequently suffer from debilitating migraines, feel as though I am in a fog during the day, and notice that I have been having trouble learning and processing new information.
Before my pulmonary hypertension diagnosis, I was no stranger to migraines. Migraines are more than a headache. It’s the type of pain and discomfort that makes me sensitive to noise, touch, and sight. The type of migraine I get from lack of oxygen is different from other migraines I’ve previously experienced. The difference is that I usually don’t see an aura or have spotty vision beforehand.
My biggest warning sign that I’m having a hypoxia migraine is sensitivity to light and a sharp pain that feels like a shock at the back of my head. I try to pay attention to the warning signs before it gets this bad. To help limit this type of headache, I monitor my oxygen levels and make sure to stay well hydrated through the day. Staying proactive is an important part of managing symptoms. Luckily, these types of migraines are helped with an increase in oxygen flow, pain-management medication, and rest.
Not only do I feel pain from migraines as a result of low oxygen, but neurocognitive abilities are also affected. One of my most noticeable cognitive impairments is frequent episodes of brain fog. For me, this happens when I am speaking and listening to others. It’s as if I look completely alert but I am not taking in any of the information and am unable to repeat the information back to anyone. This can get difficult if others think I am not listening to them. I frequently will stop during the middle of a conversation and say, “What was I just saying?” I lose my train of thought in a matter of seconds, even if it’s a topic I’m very interested in.
Not only has brain fog limited my ability to have conversations, but it also has made me forget to take medications, or I take an extra dose of medicine by accident. These frights have made things clear: I need to treat my brain fog. I have been in the habit of writing everything down, using lists, having a pill organizer, and have made people more aware of my condition so they don’t think I’m “not listening.”
My memory, as well as my ability to learn and process information, have been noticeably different with my increase in oxygen demand. It frustrates me to think back to a time when I could easily memorize pages upon pages of information. I achieved almost a 4.0 grade point average upon graduating college. Now, unless I finish a book within a few days of starting it, I completely forget what I have read. It is hard for me to remember new information that I am learning and keep it in my short-term memory.
My recall and retrieval of new information is a struggle. I’m repeating myself often and looking back on things I have learned to try to trigger my memory. I’m upset when things around me feel as if they are new all over again. My response time to others and my surroundings is noticeably delayed. On days when others really can see this effect on me, I stay away from driving and use caution when doing daily activities.
It is difficult to feel the impact of pulmonary hypertension on various systems of the body. In my opinion, the most upsetting impact is the toll that it takes on neurocognitive functions and having to manage debilitating migraines. Not only is it frustrating when noticing these symptoms in yourself, but it also can be equally upsetting for others around you to notice changes.
Have you noticed any neurological effects from pulmonary hypertension? Do you experience brain fog, lack of memory and focus, or severe migraines? How do you manage this in your life and make others aware of your condition? Share your experience on the PH forum discussing this topic.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.