COVID-19 is known as a respiratory infection. Although the coronavirus certainly affects the lungs, however, it can also cause neurological effects.

What Do We Know About the Neurological Effects of COVID-19?

New data from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago shows that four out five patients hospitalized with COVID-19 also experience neurological symptoms. If they don’t occur during the early phase, they may show up at some point later during the illness. The researchers got these figures by analyzing records of more than 500 COVID-19 patients (Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, Oct. 5, 2020).

What Are the Most Common Neurological Problems?

The most common problems include muscle pain, headaches and confusion. Dizziness and the loss of the sense of smell or taste are also frequent. Such neurological effects were more common, overall, in younger patients.

Although coronavirus infections can trigger strokes or seizures, these are quite uncommon. More worrisome is encephalopathy. Patients over 65 are particularly vulnerable to this complication. It can range from mild (confusion or lethargy) to severe (memory loss and cognitive impairment). At discharge, only a third of those who had experienced encephalopathy could manage their usual routines, such as shopping, cooking or paying bills. By and large, the patients with encephalopathy had experienced more severe cases of COVID-19.

How Long Do These Symptoms Last?

Presumably, many people recover within several weeks. However, some patients continue to experience neurological effects for months, with dizziness, brain fog, trouble concentrating and memory loss. Scientists do not have data that extends further than about six months, so they will need to continue longer-term studies. Unfortunately, doctors do not have good treatments for these long-haulers. 

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