9 Signs of Brain Inflammation

brain inflammation signs

You may have heard of inflamed joints, inflamed skin, and even and inflamed gut. All these conditions can cause a lot of discomfort in your daily life. But what you may not have heard of before is brain inflammation.  This term may bring about images of a fire on the brain with pain, redness, and aching. And this vision may be right in some cases. Brain inflammation can be linked to a variety of chronic conditions including fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, to name a few.

How do you know if you might have inflammation brewing in your brain?  In this article, we’ll talk about what signs to look for that might tell you if you are experiencing brain inflammation. There are several signs of brain inflammation that you may not be aware of that you can look out for today to help prevent further pain, discomfort, and health complications.

About brain inflammation

Brain inflammation can be linked to many health issues including:

In addition to the conditions mentioned, brain inflammation can also be linked to aging. Research shows that as you age you become more prone to brain inflammation. This can lead to a decline in cognitive function and metabolism even when no disease state is present. Therefore, it is important to work towards decreasing inflammation in the body and brain no matter what your health status.

Brain inflammation treatment research

Treatment for brain inflammation may differ depending on the condition. However, there is a theory known as the gut-brain axis theory that suggests an imbalance in the gut microbiome is linked to oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain.  It is thought that when the gastrointestinal tract, or gut, is inflamed, it releases compounds known as cytokines that are released by cells of the immune system. These compounds then travel through the inflamed, more permeable intestinal layer and travel through the bloodstream. The increased number of cytokines in the blood then increases the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, in turn affecting brain function.

Therefore, treatment options such as a gluten-free diet or plant-based diet have been suggested for brain inflammation since they have shown to reduce inflammation in the gut. One study showed that just four weeks on a plant-based diet reduced levels of inflammatory markers in the body like lipoprotein A. This protein is associated with fatty plaques in blood vessels that can increase risk of heart disease, which in turn could increase risk of brain health issues.

These nutrition treatment options may be beneficial to anyone who has any inflammatory condition like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or inflammatory skin conditions like acne, eczema, or psoriasis. However, they have shown to be especially helpful in those who have mood disorders like depression as well as those who have chronic pain like those with arthritis.  For example, one study showed that a whole food, plant-based diet improved self-assessed measures of functional status in those with osteoarthritis.  Also, it has been suggested that an anti-inflammatory diet including lots of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed, refined foods may reduce depressive symptoms. Furthermore, a report from the Arthritis Foundation suggests that a gluten-free diet may help reduce inflammatory joint pain in those with arthritis whether they have celiac disease or not.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with any of the conditions mentioned, but you’re concerned you may be at risk for inflammation, then keep reading on. The following are nine signs you can look for now that might indicate your brain is inflamed and needs treatment. If you notice any of these symptoms, then it might be time to visit a qualified healthcare provider for further testing and/or treatment.


Fatigue is a symptom that you may see often in descriptions of various conditions like the common cold, flu, or anemia, to name a few. When you think of fatigue, you think that tiredness could be interchangeable with it. However, fatigue is a different kind of tired where your body and/or mind is so tired that it loses motivation to complete the tasks in front of them. For example, if you are simply tired from a long night out, you may still be able to go to work, school, or clean the house if you need to.

However, with someone who has fatigue, namely central fatigue, the balance between the cost of expending energy and the expected reward of any action, is disrupted. Fatigue is itself the body’s way of telling us to rest and conserve energy that it may need for other bodily processes such as healing.  Research shows that fatigue is linked to inflammatory markers in the body and therefore, anti-inflammatory treatments may be helpful for those with fatigue.

Brain fog

If you’ve ever felt like your brain is having an “off” day and you can’t seem to accomplish anything, then you may be experiencing brain fog. By definition, brain fog occurs when you have trouble learning, understanding, focusing, and remembering things. Brain fog can come on because of several different conditions, including celiac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. It can also be an early sign of neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Research shows that inflammatory molecules may be at the origin of brain fog. This would explain why so many inflammatory-related conditions display this symptom. Although a little bit of brain fatigue may be a result of overwork or poor sleeping, if you notice you have chronic brain fog, then it may be time to visit your healthcare provider.

Memory issues

If you’re having trouble remembering things here and there, like what you had for lunch yesterday, or when your doctor’s appointment is, then it may not be a huge deal, especially if you haven’t been sleeping well or are overworked. However, if you start forgetting things this way on a regular basis, and start forgetting bigger things like where you live and where you work, then you may be suffering from more serious memory issues.

Some memory issues may be related to aging. However, others may be signs of more serious conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. If you experience severe memory issues, then you should visit your healthcare provider for further testing and to find out about potential treatments. Research shows that such memory issues, like the memory issues and cognitive impairments linked with the rare fungal disease histoplasmosis, is linked to brain inflammation.  Not to mention that research also shows that systemic and central inflammation may show a link between obesity and Alzheimer’s disease, and an anti-inflammatory diet rich in anti-oxidants and healthy fats may help to improve cognitive function.


Headaches can be very painful and make it hard to focus and be productive during your work day or otherwise. With migraine headaches, which can produce moderate to severe pain, they can be so painful with throbbing and causing sensitivity to light, that laying down in a dark room may be the most comforting option while your migraine medicine kicks in and provides relief. Research shows that migraine headaches may be caused by brain inflammation and could be triggered by chronic stress, diet, or hormonal fluctuations. 

Sensitivity to light

If you find that you are sensitive to light so much that it hurts your eyes or head when exposed to it, then you may be experiencing photophobia. Photophobia is a common symptom in those who suffer from migraines. However, research shows that photophobia is also common in those with neurological conditions like traumatic brain injury, Parkinsonian syndrome, primary headaches, as well as psychiatric disorders like anxiety disorder and depression. Perhaps not coincidentally, all these conditions have shown a link to inflammatory processes in the brain.

Also, photophobia is linked to a symptom known as ocular inflammation, which is inflammation in the middle of the eye, or uvea, that can cause blurred vision, seeing spots, as well as light sensitivity of course. Furthermore, research shows that those with depression have high levels of migraines and photophobia. All of this information, along with a potential link between photophobia and dry eye, suggest a great likelihood that this sensitivity to light has something to do with inflammation of the brain.

Mood changes

It’s normal to feel a little stressed or down every once in a while. However, if such mood changes become a chronic problem, then you may be suffering from brain inflammation. There is a lot of research showing that brain inflammation is linked to mood disorders like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In fact, one study shows that there is a clear link between anxiety disorders and inflammatory markers in the blood. Therefore, if you notice mood changes in yourself or others, then a visit to a qualified healthcare provider is warranted.

Stiff neck

You may have woken up with a stiff neck before if you slept on an uncomfortable pillow or in an uncomfortable position. However, if you feel stiffness and pain in your neck more days than not, then you may be experiencing some brain inflammation. This is because research shows that chronic neck pain, both traumatic and non-traumatic, is linked to alterations in the brain. Further research shows that come cases of neck pain may be related to inflammatory conditions like acute calcific tendinitis that are often associated with headaches, which is itself a sign of brain inflammation.

You feel nauseous

Nausea is that unmistakable awful feeling that you’re going to throw up, and it can eliminate your desire to eat. This symptom is linked with many different illnesses, and it is thought to be a sign of the body trying to defend itself against toxins. Common causes of nausea include gastrointestinal conditions like pancreatitis and Crohn’s disease, mood disorders like depression, and central nervous system disorders like migraines. Do you notice how these are all disorders with an inflammatory connection?  And since there is a gut-brain axis theory suggesting a link between the brain and gut regarding health, nausea may not only signify a gut health issue but could also reveal brain inflammation too. 

Vision changes or dry eye

If your vision is blurry, you are seeing spots, or you simply can’t see as well as you used to, you might have brain inflammation. Ocular inflammation and vision problems have been seen in those with traumatic brain injury, as well as in those with other inflammatory conditions like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In fact, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation reports that about 10-percent of people with IBD suffer from some sort of eye condition like uveitis, which is linked with symptoms like blurred vision, eye redness, and sensitivity to light. Furthermore, research shows that eye issues like dry eye may have a systemic inflammation origin.

Bottom line about brain inflammation

If you have learned anything from this article, it is that you should listen to your body, and brain, when it comes to your health. If something doesn’t feel right, or you’re not performing to your normal level of activity or ability, and there’s no apparent explanation for it, then your brain may be inflamed.

As you can see, there are several connections between the brain inflammation symptoms mentioned and the inflammatory conditions previously mentioned. Therefore, if you notice any of the symptoms listed above or have any of the conditions mentioned, an anti-inflammatory diet may not hurt. However, if you think your brain may be inflamed, be your own advocate and also visit your healthcare provider. They will be able to provide you with further insight on what may be causing your symptoms and what you can do to help treat or resolve them.




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Staci Gulbin is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health editor, and founder of LighttrackNutrition.com. Staci Gulbin has been a registered dietitian with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2010 and has over a decade of experience in the nutrition and dietetics industry. She has graduate degrees in Biology, Human Nutrition, and Nutrition and Education from New York University, the Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition, and Teacher’s College, Columbia University, respectively. Staci has treated thousands of patients across many wellness arenas such as weight management, fitness, long-term care, rehab, and bariatric nutrition. She has helped them prevent and manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and digestive conditions, among other things with practical changes in their eating habits and lifestyle.