One-third of Covid-19 survivors suffer from ‘brain disease’, study finds

Post-Covid PTSD: storm after storm

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They found that 34% of Covid-19 survivors were diagnosed with neurological or psychological illness within six months of infection, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

The most common diagnosis was anxiety, found in 17% of patients treated for Covid-19, followed by mood disorders, found in 14% of patients.

And while the neurological effects are more severe in hospitalized patients, they are still common in those who have only been treated on an outpatient basis, the researchers note.

“This rate has gradually increased as the severity of the Covid-19 disease increased. If we look at inpatients, that rate has jumped to 39%, ”said Maxime Taquet, academic clinical researcher in psychiatry at the University of Oxford, and a co-author of the new study.

The findings help pave the way for how the healthcare system should continue to help Covid-19 survivors, the researchers said.
“Our results indicate that brain disease and psychiatric disorders are more common after Covid-19 than after influenza or other respiratory infections, even when patients are matched for other risk factors. Now we have to see what happens beyond six months, ”added Taquet.

Covid-19 as a “brain disease”

It is the largest study of its kind to date and involved the electronic health records of more than 236,000 patients with Covid-19, primarily in the United States. The researchers compared their records with those who suffered other respiratory tract infections during the same period.

They observed that people with Covid-19 had a 44% increased risk of neurological and psychiatric illnesses compared to people recovering from the flu. And they were 16% more likely to experience these effects than people with other respiratory tract infections.

About one in 50 patients with Covid-19 has had an ischemic stroke, which is a blood clot that affects the brain.

However, Covid-19 does not necessarily increase the risk of the entire spectrum of neurological diseases.

“Two significant negative results were related to parkinsonism and Guillain-Barré syndrome,” Taquet said. “Both of these conditions are neurological conditions that we know are sometimes associated with viral infection. We did not find that they were more common after Covid-19 and after the other respiratory tract infections we looked at. “

The study was important, in part, because of the large number of patient charts the researchers were able to analyze, according to Dr Musa Sami, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Nottingham.

“This is robust work in a large cohort demonstrating the association between Covid-19 and psychiatric and neurological complications,” he said in a statement. “This is a very important topic because there has been considerable dismay over Covid-19 as a ‘disease of the brain’. “

Post-Covid PTSD: storm after storm

Sami, who was not associated with the study, stressed the need for more research into how exactly Covid-19 affects the brain and nervous system. “Psychological stress, longer hospital stays and the characteristics of the disease itself may play a role,” he said.

A clue: Psychological symptoms are more common than severe neurological complications, according to Masud Husain, professor of neurology and cognitive science at the University of Oxford and co-author of the study.

“It’s really people with very serious illnesses that are at a higher risk of developing neurological complications, unlike what we see with mental health complications, which are much more serious,” he said.

Other smaller studies have shown the result. A study in February followed 381 patients treated for Covid-19 at a hospital in Rome, Italy, and found that 30% of them had post-traumatic stress disorder after their recovery.

Some Covid-19 long-haul carriers say vaccines can ease their symptoms.  Researchers are interestedSome Covid-19 long-haul carriers say vaccines can ease their symptoms.  Researchers are interested

A December study in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice showed that Covid-19 can cause seizures and movement disorders, even in some moderate cases.

The long-term burden of Covid-19 on the healthcare system

According to Paul Harrison, professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study, one of the limitations of the Lancet Psychiatry study is that it uses “routine health data” rather than research data.

This could mean that the diagnostics are missing, not fully investigated, or incorrect.

And just having been diagnosed can make a difference.

“Patients who had Covid-1919 might be more likely to have a neurological and psychiatric diagnosis, simply because they received more follow-up, more medical attention, compared to patients with respiratory tract infections. This could explain some of the differences we ‘ve observed in tariffs, ”Taquet said during a press briefing.

Nonetheless, the study offers an overview of the long-term burden the pandemic will have on those it has struck.

“Although the individual risks for most disorders are low, the effect on the general population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic and the fact that good many of these conditions are chronic, ”said Harrison. “As a result, health care systems must be resourced to meet anticipated needs, both in primary and secondary care services.”

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