According to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, individuals who have had COVID-19 are at an increased risk of developing neurological conditions within the first year after infection. Movement disorders, memory problems, strokes, and seizures are some of the difficulties.
Probleme that develop in the first year following infection include strokes, seizures, memory, and movement difficulties.
If you have COVID-19, it may still be affecting your brain. According to new research, those who have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus are at a greater risk of developing a number of neurological illnesses in the first year after the infection, including strokes, cognitive and memory difficulties, anxiety, depression, and migraine headaches.
The post-COVID brain is also associated with movement problems, from tremors and involuntary muscle contractions to epileptic seizures, balance and coordination difficulties, and hearing and vision impairments, as well as other symptoms similar to those experienced with Parkinson's disease.
The findings from scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care system were published on September 22 in the journal Nature Medicine.
COVID-19's long-term neurologic effects are analyzed by our research, which includes a clinical epidemiologist from Washington University. “We examined 44 brain and other neurologic disorders in both nonhospitalized and hospitalized patients, including those admitted to the intensive care unit. These are part and parcel of long COVID. The virus isn't always as harmless as some people think it is.”
COVID-19 has contributed to more than 40 million new neurological disorders worldwide, according to Al-Aly.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis conducted a comprehensive analysis of federal data to determine whether or not persons who had COVID-19 were at an increased risk of developing neurological ailments within the first year following the infection. Movement difficulties, memory difficulties, strokes, and seizures are among the difficulties.
Specific risk factors for long-term neurological problems are absent, other than a COVID-19 infection. "It doesn't matter whether you're young or old, female or male, or what your race is," Al-Aly said.
Because the vaccines were not yet widely available during the study period, which spanned March 2020 to early January 2021, few of the study participants were vaccinated for COVID-19. Notably, the data also predates delta, omicron, and other COVID variations.
In a previous research by Al-Aly, which was published in Nature Medicine, vaccinations significantly reduced the risk of long-term brain problems — by about 20% — according to the author. “It is certainly important to get vaccinated but also important to understand that they do not provide complete protection against long-term neurologic disorders,” Al-Aly said.
In a database maintained by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, scientists examined 14 million de-identified medical records. They are the nation's largest integrated healthcare system, and patients were of all ages, races, and sexes.
Next, the research team created a controlled data set of 154,000 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 sometime between March 1, 2020 and January 15, 2021, and who had recovered for the first 30 days after infection, using statistical modeling. Both groups of individuals were evaluated for neurologic outcomes in the COVID-19 data set: a control group of more than 5.8 million people from March 2018 to December 31, 2019.
As a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care system, Ziyad Al-Aly has conducted numerous investigations on long COVID diseases including the devastating effects of the virus on the heart, kidneys, and mental health.
Scientists examined brain health over a year-long period. Neurological problems were 7% more common in people with COVID-19. Based on the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, this figure represents approximately 6.6 million people who have suffered brain impairments as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Memory difficulties are at a 77% greater risk in people who contracted the virus than those in control groups, according to Al-Aly. "These problems resolve in some people but persist in many others," says the researcher. At this point, the proportion of people who improve versus those who have long-lasting problems is unknown.
The research team found an increased likelihood of Alzheimer's among people infected with the virus. Compared with the control groups, there were two more instances of Alzheimer's per 1,000 people with COVID-19. "It's unlikely that someone who has had COVID-19 will just get Alzheimer's out of the blue," Al-Aly said.
People who had the virus were 50% more likely to have an ischemic stroke than those who had not. This is when a blood clot or other obstruction blocks an artery's ability to deliver blood and oxygen to the brain. Ischemic strokes are responsible for the majority of strokes, and may result in difficulty speaking, vision problems, cognitive confusion, diminished sensation on one side of the body, permanent brain damage, and death.
Other researchers have shown that SARS-CoV-2 can penetrate the blood vessels, causing a stroke or seizure, in mice and humans. "It helps explain how someone with no risk factors might suddenly have a stroke."
COVID-19-positive individuals were 88% more likely to suffer from epilepsy or seizures, 43% more likely to develop mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression, and 35% more likely to suffer mild to severe headaches, as well as 42% more likely to experience movement disorders, which include involuntary muscle contractions, tremors, and other Parkinson's-like symptoms.
COVID-19 patients were also 20% more likely to have vision problems such as blurred vision, dryness, and retinal inflammation. They were also 22% more likely to develop hearing problems such as tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
"Our investigation adds to this expanding body of evidence by providing a detailed account of the neurologic consequences of COVID-19 one year after infection," Al-Aly said.
COVID's long-term effects on the brain and other systems underscore the need for governments and health institutions to develop policy and public health and prevention programs to manage the ongoing epidemic and devise plans for a post-COVID world, according to Al-Aly. "Given the colossal scale of the epidemic, managing these challenges requires urgent and coordinated global, national, and regional response strategies," he said.
Evan Xu, Yan Xie, and Ziyad Al-Aly, "Long-term neurologic outcomes of COVID-19," Nature Medicine, doi: 10.1038/s41591-022-02001-z
The Department of Veterans Affairs of the United States sponsored this study, as well as the American Society of Nephrology and KidneyCure. Data that support the conclusions of this study is available from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. VA data is made freely available to researchers behind the VA firewall with an approved VA study protocol.