Neurological symptoms are extremely common in patients with Covid-19 sick enough to be hospitalized, according to a study released Monday.
Symptoms range from mild to severe and can include headache, dizziness and impaired brain function, according to the study published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.
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The results highlight the tremendous effects the virus can have on the body. What’s more, the study found that patients can continue to experience these symptoms long after they have recovered from the disease.
The news comes as President Donald Trump was scheduled to leave Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after being hospitalized for three days. His doctors did not indicate that the president experienced any major neurological symptoms.
In the study, researchers at Northwestern Medicine looked at the first 509 inpatients within their network of 10 hospitals and medical centers in Chicago in March and April. Just over a quarter had been put on ventilation.
A majority of 509 patients – 82% – developed problems with the nervous system. “This means that 4 out of 5 hospital patients in our hospital system at the start of the pandemic had these neurological issues,” said Dr. Igor Koralnik, study co-author and head of neuro-infectious diseases and global neurology. at Northwestern Medicines.
Muscle pain was reported by nearly 44.8 percent of patients and 37.7 percent complained of headache.
Just under a third of patients developed a more serious type of neurological problem: encephalopathy or impaired brain function.
The problems ranged from mild symptoms, such as difficulty in paying attention, short-term memory, concentration and multitasking skills, “to confusion, stupor and coma,” Koralnik said. More serious brain function problems were more likely to occur in patients over the age of 65.
Others reported feeling dizzy or having lost their sense of taste or smell.
“This confirms that neurological manifestations are common, but often benign. It’s important, ”said Dr Alejandro Rabinstein, neurologist at the Mayo Clinic. “Many patients in the hospital with Covid will have muscle pain, loss of smell and taste. These are reversible and benign. Rabinstein did not participate in the new study.
It appears that the symptoms are not the result of hospitalization, which can occur after treating patients in intensive care units, but rather of the virus itself. Forty-two percent of the patients in the study had neurological problems when they first became ill.
Indeed, Koralnik said such problems could be the first signs of a coronavirus infection. People who suddenly can’t smell, without an explanation, “should take this as a sign of early Covid-19. “
“They should be tested more quickly and quarantined and trace their contacts to prevent further spread” of the virus, “he added.
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Future studies of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 could reveal different impacts on the nervous system. This research focused on patients admitted to hospital at the start of the pandemic, usually in dedicated Covid-19 departments without wide access to brain imaging. In addition, less than 6% of the patients in this study were seen by neurologists or neurosurgeons.
“Only nine months after the start of the pandemic,” wrote the study authors, “the long-term effects of Covid-19 on the nervous system remain uncertain. “
The long-term effects of these symptoms are also unknown. Koralnik and his colleagues will continue to follow patients after they are released from hospital, including the so-called long-haul ones, who continue to experience symptoms such as fever, fatigue and brain fog, months after the virus has recovered.
“It’s important that people realize the magnitude of these issues,” said Koralnik, who also oversees Northwestern Medicine’s Neuro Covid-19 research group. “We need to keep doing more research to try to find out why this is happening, especially brain fog. “
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