According to newly conducted research, eight out of ten people hospitalised with coronavirus came away with brain damage. Additionally, those who show neurological symptoms of the virus, such as headaches, loss of olfactory senses, strokes and comas, were six times more likely to die from infection than those with non-neurological symptoms.
Encephalopathy connected to COVID-19
The interim analysis conducted by the Global Consortium Study of Neurologic Dysfunction in COVID-19 (GCS-NeuroCOVID) involved 3,744 hospitalised coronavirus patients, 82% of whom exhibited neurological problems arising from the virus.
Of those who suffered neurological COVID symptoms, four in 10 people had experienced headaches, while nearly one-third had suffered from the loss of taste and smell. Out of diagnosable abnormalities, doctors could tie these symptoms to encephalopathy, meaning temporary or permanent brain damage, affecting structure or function.
Encephalopathy was found to have affected nearly half of the patients involved in the study, followed closely by coma and stroke at 17% and 6%, respectively. The lead author of the study, Professor Sherry Chou, revealed: ‘Acute encephalopathy is by far the most common symptom that we see in the clinic.’
Those patients may be in an altered sensory state or have impaired consciousness, or they don't feel like themselves and act confused, delirious or agitated.
It is already well known that coronavirus can directly attack the brain and the body’s neurons, resulting in conditions such as meningitis and inflammation. However, those events affected roughly 1% of all COVID patients.
The next step on researchers’ minds is to determine if neurological effects from coronavirus present any long term consequences. The full repercussions may not be known for decades, as COVID survivors will need to be observed as they age. Currently, a British and US team are also undergoing research to figure out if coronavirus could increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s.
COVID-19 may also affect the brain’s grey matter
Suppose the idea of long term neurological damage isn’t shocking enough; another recent study conducted by researchers at Georgia State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that coronavirus infections may also reduce grey matter.
The study showed that COVID patients who experienced a fever or had been on oxygen showed reduced grey matter volume in their brain’s frontal-temporal network, associated with a higher level of disability even six months after being discharged the hospital. This grey matter is vital for neuron function and communication and the brain’s ability to process information. The study published in Neurobiology of Stressalso implied that the frontal-temporal network could be a core area for brain involvement for coronavirus.
To conduct the study, researchers analysed the CT scans of 120 neurological patients matched for age, gender and disease, including 58 with acute COVID-19 and 62 who were not infected by the virus. Results showed that grey matter was lowered in patients with severe disability both at the time of hospital discharge and six months after. Grey matter volume was also lowered in COVID patients that had oxygen therapy or experienced fever compared to those who did not, suggesting that coronavirus may affect the frontal-temporal network through fever and lack of oxygen.
The study’s first author, Kuaikuai Duan, a graduate research assistant at the Center for Translational Research in Neuroimaging and Data Science (TReNDS) and PhD student in Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, revealed:
Science has shown that the brain's structure affects its function, and abnormal brain imaging has emerged as a major feature of COVID-19. Previous studies have examined how the brain is affected by COVID-19 using a univariate approach, but ours is the first to use a multivariate, data-driven approach to link these changes to specific COVID-19 characteristics (for example fever and lack of oxygen) and outcome (disability level).