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The #1 Reason You Can't Remember Something, According to Science

Brain farts can indicate a serious health problem, experts say 

Everyone has the occasional brain fart—a moment when you forget something that's like second nature to you. There's many examples of brain farts and while they may seem harmless, that's not always the case. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Santoshi Billakota, MD, an Adult Neurologist Epileptologist and Clinical Assistant Professor within the Department of Neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine who explained how brain farts work and why they can sometimes indicate a bigger health issue. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is a Brain Fart?

Annoyed frustrated male reading bad news on the cellphone

Dr. Billakota explains a brain fart is "a temporary mental lapse or trouble reasoning can be colloquially called a 'brain fart.' These can include forgetting names, misplacing items or even forgetting what you got up to go do."


When Do Brain Farts Happen?

woman rushing

According to Dr. Billakota, "They usually occur during momentary lack of focus or paying attention. When we are stressed, multitasking or even doing a task that we do frequently, our brains sometimes go into a 'cruise control' mode. This is a way for the brain to conserve energy."

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How Do Brain Farts Negatively Affect Us?

driving car

Dr. Billakota says brain farts can, "lead us to not pay attention or focus during repetitive or mundane tasks. For instance, you might get in the elevator and accidentally end up on the wrong floor because it's a floor you frequently go to. Or you might get in the car to go somewhere and accidentally end up at work because you're used to driving there.  Since this sometimes is an attentional issue, people with attentional deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD) or learning disabilities can be more prone to 'brain farts.'"

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What a Brain Fart Can Indicate

Man relaxing with bourbon whiskey drink alcoholic beverage in hand and using mobile smartphone

"Other times, when you forget certain names/places/things and you feel something is right at the 'tip of your tongue,' this can suggest an error in memory retrieval," Dr. Billakota explains. "This usually doesn't suggest anything dangerous or progressive, but indicates this might be information you have not used in a while so retrieving it might be a little more difficult. Usually, this is potentiated by alcohol or drug usage, anxiety, and sleep deprivation."

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A Brain Fart Can Indicate a Bigger Health Issue

Radiologist looking at the MRI scan images.

Dr. Billakota states, "Although the above are normal, some memory lapses can be concerning and signify a more serious condition- like dementia, cognitive impairments or even seizure. These red flags include:

  • Asking the same question over and over again
  • Forgetting how to get to a common place you usually go to (driving or walking)
  • Forgetting long term memories (like a vacation you once took, or an important day—like your wedding)
  • Trouble remembering how to do basic activities of daily living: cooking, bathing, dress yourself or dialing a phone
  • Frustration with family members or co-workers due to your memory issues
  • Changes in personality along with memory issues
  • Trouble reading, writing, solving basic math problems
  • If you notice any of the above in a family member, friend or loved one, please speak with a neurologist immediately."

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather