Every flu season is the flu season people are trying to avoid, and this flu season is certainly taking a toll on our population’s health and wellness. If haven’t already, there is still time to pop in to your local family practice for preventative measures. If you haven’t gotten the flu this season, consider yourself extremely lucky. Almost everyone is still actively trying to avoid it by boosting their immune systems with elderberry and vitamin C, all while giving you the stink eye if you cough, sneeze, or wheeze in their direction!

The onset of the flu is rapid and there is barely any time to proclaim “I think I’m getting sick” because by the end of it, you are! You know the symptoms all too well — body aches and chills, a high fever, and a headache that won’t clear. While the virus takes hold of every part of you, what is happening to your brain? While you likely don’t think about this when you’re in the thick of the flu, it’s curious, because you’re sort of out of your mind during this illness.

Is ‘flu brain’ real?

If you’ve observed someone with the flu this year you’ve likely noticed how zombie-like they are. You try and hold a conversation only to receive a glassed over look, almost like no one is there. They can hardly sit up or eat, and during this time severe brain fog clouds every inch of their grey matter. Is flu brain a sensationalized trait of the flu, or is something really happening to the brain?

As it turns out, flu brain is real. This aggressive virus infiltrates the brain, resulting in blank stares we’re all too familiar with. Flu brain is triggered by your body’s immune response to a foreign pathogen, and is activated as a result. Our immune system goes to work trying to prevent an infection or protect against the foreign invader from getting out of hand.

When you get the classic symptoms of the flu, this is your body’s way to physically handle the internal immune response of the virus that is attacking.

How the brain is involved

Neurotransmitters play a big role in the onslaught of flu brain and the intensified immune response can deplete your body of serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, choline, and glutamate, resulting in decreased functioning of learning and memory and “feel good” emotions. When these neurotransmitters are impacted it directly affects the neural circuits in the body, causing
delays in motor functioning and motivation.

The hypothalamus also plays a role in flu brain because this is the regions that regulates hunger, thirst, temperature, and unconscious functions of the body. When a fever spikes as an outcome of trying to create an unfavorable environment for the virus, this can disrupt a normal functioning hypothalamus and increase a person’s sleep state to conserve energy for fighting the virus.

Flu brain is often experienced and compared to sleep deprivation or being drunk. The pro-inflammatory immune response as seen by the fever, decreases cognition and mental clarity.

Can you prevent flu brain?

The best thing to do is to allow your body the ability to do its thing, naturally. There isn’t much you can to do prevent flu brain except taking the time to rest. Sleep as much as you can and listen to when your body needs to do so. When you sleep, it grants your body the opportunity to focus all of its energy on fighting the virus, instead of doing wakeful tasks. So, let your body sleep to fight the good fight!

Huneycutt Family Medicine

At Huneycutt Family Medicine, we hope and wish that you’re staying flu-free this season. If you need more information on how to take preventative measures, give our family practice a call or stop in for a routine appointment.