A study has revealed that Coronavirus can cause severe brain problems in patients, even after they have recovered. Potentially fatal COVID-19 complications in the brain including delirium, nerve damage and stroke may be more common than initially thought, a team of British-based doctors warned Wednesday.
Severe COVID-19 infections are known to put patients at risk of neurological complications, but research led by University College London suggests serious problems can occur even in individuals with mild cases of the virus.
Coronavirus can cause brain problems including strokes
The team looked at the neurological symptoms of 43 patients hospitalised with either confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
They found 10 cases of temporary brain dysfunction, 12 cases of brain inflammation, eight strokes and eight cases of nerve damage.
Most of those patients with inflammation were diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) — a rare condition typically seen in children after viral infections.
“We identified a higher than expected number of people with neurological conditions such as brain inflammation, which did not always correlate with the severity of respiratory symptoms,” said Michael Zandi, of UCL’s Queen Square Institute of Neurology and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
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One coronavirus patient described in the paper, a 55-year-old woman with no history of psychiatric illness, began to behave oddly the day after she was discharged from hospital.
She repeatedly put her coat on and took it off again and began to hallucinate, reporting that she saw monkeys and lions in her house. She was readmitted to hospital and gradually improved on antipsychotic medication.
Another woman, aged 47, was admitted to hospital with a headache and numbness in her right hand a week after a cough and fever came on. She later became drowsy and unresponsive and required an emergency operation to remove part of her skull to relieve pressure on her swollen brain.
Silver lining: Coronavirus does not directly attack brain
The research, published in the journal Brain, showed that none of patients diagnosed with neurological problems had COVID-19 in their cerebrospinal fluid, suggesting that the virus did not directly attack their brains.
Perhaps crucially, the team found that ADEM diagnoses “not related to the severity of the respiratory COVID-19 disease”.
“Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause,” said Ross Paterson from UCL’s Queen Square Institute of Neurology.
“Doctors need to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes.”
“We’re seeing things in the way Covid-19 affects the brain that we haven’t seen before with other viruses,” said Michael Zandi, a senior author on the study and a consultant at the institute and University College London Hospitals NHS foundation trust.
The cases add to concerns over the long-term health effects of Covid-19, which have left some patients breathless and fatigued long after they have cleared the virus, and others with numbness, weakness and memory problems.
Experts say brain damage is not widespread
The full range of brain disorders caused by Covid-19 may not have been picked up yet, because many patients in hospitals are too sick to examine in brain scanners or with other procedures. “What we really need now is better research to look at what’s really going on in the brain,” Zandi said.
“Doctors may be missing signs of serious and potentially fatal brain disorders triggered by coronavirus, as they emerge in mildly affected or recovering patients, scientists have warned. In some cases, the neurological problem was the patient’s first & main symptom” https://t.co/fRAZrU7uZZ— Mar Hicks (@histoftech) July 8, 2020
One concern is that the virus could leave a minority of the population with subtle brain damage that only becomes apparent in years to come. This may have happened in the wake of the 1918 flu pandemic, when up to a million people appeared to develop brain disease.
Read more: Coronavirus cases accelerate: US under siege, EU and others ease quarantine
With more than 11 million confirmed infections worldwide, COVID-19 is known to cause a variety of health complications in addition to lung infection.
While the results of the study suggest that brain complications could be more common among virus patients than first thought, experts said it didn’t mean that brain damage cases were widespread. Coronavirus brain problems
“The scrutiny that the pandemic attracts means it would be very unlikely that there is a large parallel pandemic of unusual brain damage linked to COVID-19,” said Anthony David, director of UCL’s Institute of Mental Health. Coronavirus brain problems
GVS News Desk with additional input by other sources