Questions about brain fog have been drifting through the hepatitis C community for years. Many doctors, researchers, and advocates assert that memory problems, confusion, and irritability caused by hep C seldom occur in people in the early stages of the disease. Yet studies suggest that brains can become foggy before advanced liver damage sets in. The good news is that researchers have shown that treatment can not only clear the virus. It has the potential to clear the fog no matter when it starts.
One such study, at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, looked at 15 HCV patients, as well as seven patients in a control group. None of the patients had cirrhosis. The researchers examined the patients’ brain functions through magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and they gave them multiple tests to evaluate memory, learning and other cognitive skills. The study, completed in 2011, found that patients who achieved SVR had improved brain functioning, but those who failed to clear the virus did not.
A 2013 study with 150 participants found similar results. Michael R. Kraus et al. tested 150 hep C patients, 90 percent of whom did not have cirrhosis. The tests looked at alertness, divided attention, sustained attention, and working memory. The researchers concluded that neuropsychological performance is affected by hepatitis C. They stated the “impairment is potentially reversible after successful virus eradication.” The researchers suggested that treatment for hep C not only be considered on the basis of liver damage, but it should also be considered as a way to unfog the brain.*
On a personal note, a year ago my brain felt foggy. I had a hard time multi-tasking, I would continually misplace personal items, and I felt on-edge most of the time. These days I juggle many tasks with ease, my keys stay in my purse where they belong, and I feel calm almost always. I’ve been cured of hep and my brain seems better than ever. Those who suggest that treatment should go only to those with advanced liver disease should think again—they’re lucky they can do it without fog.
* References for the studies are on the Readings page.