COVID-19 ‘Brain Disease’: 1 in 3 People Who Survive a Coronavirus Infection May Be Left With Permanent Brain Damage

Survivors of a COVID-19 infection may still be left with a permanent lifelong disability. According to a new U.K. study, nearly a third of individuals who contracted but recovered from COVID-19 were left with lasting “brain disease” of long-term mental health or neurological symptoms. 

Ryan Prior of CNN has reported on new research from the University of Oxford that found “34% of COVID-19 survivors received a diagnosis for a neurological or psychological condition within six months of their infection.” He added that “the most common diagnosis was anxiety, found in 17% of those treated for COVID-19, followed by mood disorders, found in 14% of patients.”

While these neurological side effects appeared to be more common in people hospitalized for the COVID-19 infection, they still showed up in people treated in outpatient settings.

“That rate increased progressively as the severity of the COVID-19 illness increased. If we look at patients who were hospitalized that rate increased to 39%,” said Maxime Taquet, an academic clinical fellow in psychiatry at the University of Oxford and co-author of the new U.K. study that was published in the journal, Lancet Psychiatry. “Our results indicate that brain diseases and psychiatric disorders are more common after COVID-19 than after flu or other respiratory infections, even when patients are matched for other risk factors. We now need to see what happens beyond six months.”

Taquet and her team said the study could drastically impact how healthcare officials, as well as employers, assist and accommodate the needs of COVID-19 survivors in the future.

Prior reported that the Oxford study is “the largest study of its kind yet and involved the electronic health records of more than 236,000 COVID-19 patients, mostly in the U.S.”

To complete the research, the scientists compiled data on COVID-19 infections with the health records of individuals who had experienced other types of respiratory tract infections during the same period.

“They observed that those with COVID-19 had a 44% increased risk for neurological and psychiatric illness compared to people recovering from flu,” Prior reported. “They were 16% more likely to experience those effects compared with people with other respiratory tract infections. [Additionally,] about 1 in 50 COVID-19 patients had an ischemic stroke, which is a blood clot that affects the brain.”

Several previously published studies using smaller numbers of patients have also linked COVID-19 to mental health problems. In an Italian study of 381 people published in February 2021, researchers found that 30% of COVID survivors experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after recovery. And in December 2020, a study published in Neurology: Clinical Practice reported that even moderate cases of COVID-19 could trigger seizures and movement disorders.


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